Delays over £1bn rail link threaten bid for Olympics

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The Independent Online

London will be unable to host the Olympics in 2012 unless the Prime Minister gives the go-ahead within the next few weeks for a £1bn rail link, the capital's Mayor, Ken Livingstone, says.

Documents setting out London's credentials for staging the event are due in on 15 January and leaders of the bid company are known to be desperate to declare that the north-south route through east London will be built.

Railway insiders argue that the green light is needed soon if the East London Line extension is to be completed in time.

The state-backed organisation submitting the bid would carry on with its campaign, but would only be able to say that a route was "planned". The Government has already failed to commit itself to CrossRail - the east-west link - in time for the Olympics. Rival bidders such as Paris and Madrid are already building new stations.

No 10 is cautious about the scheme because of the rail industry's reputation as a financial black hole. However, Mr Livingstone believes the line is critical to the bid.

At a recent private meeting he said London's transport system could not "manage" the Olympics without the link, which would enable tens of thousands of visitors to avoid the centre of the capital. In building the 17-mile route, engineers would rip up existing Tube track between Whitechapel and New Cross, use national railway lines and build new track to link Croydon in the south with Highbury and Islington in the north.

An internal document prepared for Bob Kiley, London's transport commissioner, says that in the absence of the link, "the Jubilee line would grind to a halt during the Olympics because it could not operate safely and efficiently". It says that "regular and substantial" station closures would occur to prevent too many people crowding on to platforms.

On an official measure of overcrowding the Jubilee line would reach a factor of 2. Capacity is reached at 1 and "system breakdown" occurs above 1.5 when people cannot get on to platforms and trains safely, train reliability drops and the network cannot operate.

The paper says the only non-rail alternative to the link would be to run large numbers of buses and coaches. "This would not be feasible or attractive" to visitors. "Extra vehicles would not be available and reliable journey times could not be achieved," the document says.

Ian Brown, the managing director of rail at Transport for London, said the route was part of the Labour Party's manifesto and had been approved by the Government's Strategic Rail Authority. "This is very important to the Olympic bid, but its significance does not end there," he said. "Even without this huge event, stations in central London would have to close in peak hours over the next nine years if the project does not go ahead. This is also about economic regeneration worth around £10bn. It's pretty fundamental."

A spokesman for the London bid argued that existing and confirmed transport provision could cope with the Olympics. But he added: "The more transport options the better."

Bidders have to answer a preliminary questionnaire set by the International Olympic Committee on 15 January. If the replies are satisfactory, the "applicants" become "candidates" on 18 May and submit their main bids on 15 November.

If London wins, about 10 million spectators will travel to sports venues in London with activity concentrating on the Lower Lea Valley and Stratford in the East End.

At the busiest times more than 200,000 people will arrive at the "Olympic zone" and 200,000 spectators will depart from previous sessions.

¿ John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, sent a stern message to Mr Livingstone yesterday that he will have to submit to party discipline if he wishes to be Labour's candidate in next year's mayoral elections.

Mr Livingstone was suspended from Labour after standing as an independent in 2000, but the party's ruling national executive committee agreed last week to consider his application to rejoin the fold.