However, after a long rearguard campaign by Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, a station at Stratford, east London, has not been ruled out. Tender documents for the pounds 3bn link, which the Government hopes will be completed by 2002, will be sent next week to the four consortia bidding to build the line. They will be told to include a site at Stratford that could accommodate a station if a developer came forward offering sufficient funds.
Insiders at Union Railways, the government company drawing up the plans for the 68-mile line, reckon that the work will put an extra pounds 20m or pounds 30m on the price of the link but will allow the flexibility to build a domestic or an international station on the site later. The line will be in a tunnel at this point through to Islington, north London, and a Union Railways source said there was a need for an area at Stratford anyway to allow for a junction and an exit to a depot for the trains.
Ebbsfleet, near the M25 and M2, has long been - favoured ahead of Rainham, Essex, and Stratford - because of its distance from London. It will attract commuters from a large swathe of Kent who will be able to get to St Pancras in under 20 minutes. Paris will be just over two hours.