Tunnel link 'facing delay': Funding and London terminus undecided

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THE GOVERNMENT published details yesterday of the much-leaked route of the proposed Channel tunnel rail link but left vital unanswered questions over funding and the location of the London terminus.

John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, confirmed Norman Lamont's Budget promise by saying that 'substantial' public support will be given to the link, reversing the policy of total private sector funding.

Mr MacGregor gave no details of how much government money would be forthcoming and sceptics are warning that raising the finance for a public/private sector scheme could push the completion date much later than Mr MacGregor's promise of 'by the end of the decade'.

The cost is estimated to be pounds 2.4bn, with a range between pounds 2bn and pounds 3bn - and its construction is likely to create 15,000 jobs.

Labour believes the ministers were forced into the U-turn by the reluctance of the private sector to fund the project in a recession.

John Prescott, the party's transport spokesman, accused the Government of 'blunder and blight' for delaying the project, which he said was unlikely to be finished until well into the next century.

While the details of the route through Kent leaked last week proved accurate with the 'short tunnel' option having been chosen, Mr MacGregor said that a decision about its route through London would not be made until the end of the year, a surprise, given Mr Lamont's statement that the Government favoured the cheaper Stratford to St Pancras option, costed at about pounds 700m.

Mr MacGregor said that he was considering the pounds 1.4bn original plan for a tunnel all the way from Stratford to a new low-level station at King's Cross.

The final details of the route will be published by the end of the year after six months of consultation. It will then be the subject of a 'hybrid' (joint private and public) Bill. Union Railways, the BR subsidiary building the line will soon become an independent government company in readiness for privatisation.

Sir Bob Reid, chairman of BR, said it will be 'the first new main line' this century and that it would cut journeys between London and Ashford from 72 minutes to 40, and from Gravesend to London from 50 to 20. It would cut at least 33 minutes off international journeys, making the quickest London to Paris trip 147 minutes and London to Brussels 127 minutes.

The line will not really be suitable for heavy freight because its gradient of 1 in 40 means that two locomotives would be required, making it uneconomic.

Doubts remain, page 3

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