The Budget: Channel tunnel and Heathrow links get go-ahead: Railways

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THE CHANNEL tunnel rail link and the express London rail link from Paddington to Heathrow airport were given the go-ahead in the Budget yesterday by Norman Lamont but a third significant scheme, the Crossrail line from east London to west London, has in effect been shelved.

The plans for the Channel tunnel link are expected to be announced fully by John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, in Parliament today. They have been altered again, with St Pancras now intended to be the London terminus, which means the proposal for a new low-level pounds 1.4bn station at King's Cross has been ditched.

The scheme put forward by the London Regeneration Consortium to develop the 134-acre site behind the station is also in effect at an end.

The statement is a stronger expression of support for the link, which is expected to cost pounds 3bn, than has previously been evident. The Government accepts it will have to be a joint public-private sector scheme rather than entirely funded by the private sector.

Mr Lamont said it will open 'around the end of the decade'. However, the difficulties in developing joint public- private sector projects, which are a new concept in the UK, were illustrated by the lengthy row over the Heathrow Express rail link and question marks will hang over Mr Lamont's target date until the Treasury shows it can relax its rules and make it easier for such projects to proceed.

Union Railways, the British Rail subsidiary currently developing the scheme, will, according to Mr Lamont, have to hand over the reins to a private company in the near future as the line will be managed and constructed in the private sector with government support for the commuter aspects of the railway.

Network SouthEast last night reaffirmed its support for the Thameslink 2000 project, which will link lines into London from the north and the south. It was to have shared the low-level King's Cross station.

The pounds 300m Heathrow Express, given Parliamentary approval in 1991, had been held up by a lengthy row between British Rail and BAA, which owns and operates Heathrow, over their respective track charges and contributions. The complicated deal struck yesterday means that BR will contribute pounds 15m and BAA pounds 36m to the joint venture, with the rest of the money coming from debt raised by BAA.

However, BR will not be running the service: BAA said that after construction 'independent companies' will be invited to tender for the operation of the service.

The trains will operate along 11 miles of existing track from Paddington to Hayes. They will then branch off to a new six-mile spur, principally in a tunnel, to a station serving Terminals One, Two and Three, which will be reached in 16 minutes from Paddington. They will then run on to a second station at Terminal Four.

BAA says passengers will be able to check in at the stations.

BAA is hoping to attract six million passengers a year to the service when it opens in late 1997, more than 10 per cent of the airport's predicted users. However, this may be optimistic given that the price is expected to be pounds 9 single or pounds 14 return compared with the current price of pounds 2.80 from central London via the Underground.

BAA said that up to 1,800 jobs will be created during construction and 200 staff will be needed to operate the line.

The postponement of Crossrail will be a big disappointment for London Transport, which had been lobbying hard for the scheme to link Paddington station and Liverpool Street by a new underground railway that would connect the two stations' train services and allow mainline trains to run across London.

Mr Lamont had already announced in his Autumn Statement that he wanted to see it as a joint public-private sector project and yesterday's statement seems to imply that he wants private money to be the main component.

He added that the proposals 'will be re-examined', which means the line, provisionally costed at pounds 1.7bn is unlikely to be built until well into the next decade.

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