Public funds committed to Channel rail link: Doubts remain over high-speed route

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The Independent Online
THE announcement of some details of the high-speed Channel rail link broke new ground in giving a commitment to finance the work partly with government funds, but left a lot of uncertainties over the route.

The only certainties regarding stations are that the London terminus will be either King's Cross or St Pancras, and that Ashford International will be built on a spur off the main line. The go-ahead for Ashford was finally given yesterday.

Gil Howarth, managing director of Union Railways, the BR subsidiary planning the link, said there were four main options for an international station in between: Stratford in east London, probably now the least likely option, Rainham or Purfleet, both in Essex, or Ebbsfleet, between Gravesend and Dartford in Kent. It would be economic to build only one of these. There was also the possibility of a domestic station at Nashenden in mid-Kent.

North of the Thames, there will be possible junctions at Forest Gate with Crossrail, if it is ever built, and at Ripple Lane, near Dagenham, with the London, Tilbury and Southend line. South of the river, there will be junctions with commuter lines at Ashford and at Ebbsfleet, and probably a spur to the international station at Waterloo using the old Gravesend line. There is no firm commitment to this spur but the pounds 140m station which will be completed in May, six months before the delayed opening of the tunnel, will be a white elephant without it.

One surprise suggestion is the idea of a 'Union Metro' linking the North London line with a new tunnel under the Thames to the North Kent line and the new international station.

More than 700 meetings are to be held by Union Railways to assuage local opposition and to 'fine tune' some local minor options in the next six months. Yesterday's publication of the plans means that in the past five years the Government has almost turned full circle. In July 1988, BR published four options for the route, causing widespread planning blight and opposition. In March 1989 it gave its preferred option, which ran through south London.

In June 1990, the Thatcher government shelved the project because it refused to underwrite the link. The consortium proposing it said it wanted only pounds 350m towards the pounds 2.6bn cost, but Baroness Thatcher said: 'It would be a colossal subsidy that would be required.'

The Thatcher government insisted it was forbidden from subsidising international services under the Channel Tunnel Act. Mr MacGregor told MPs yesterday that the support would be 'in recognition of the domestic transport benefits from the new line'.

Tomorrow the Government is expected to announce plans for regeneration of the East Thames Corridor, some of which will dovetail with the new rail line.