Tunnel chief attacks failure over rail link

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THE FAILURE to build a rail link to London in time for the completion of the Channel tunnel was a 'a tragi-comedy in umpteen acts', Sir Alastair Morton, the chief executive of Eurotunnel, said yesterday.

In an attack that went beyond even his own normally outspoken language, Sir Alastair bemoaned the lack of a coherent policy for planning and building large projects. He said the Government did not have the 'semblance of a pure bred or even bastardised approach to a policy for infrastructure investment'.

Addressing a the Institution of Mechanical Engineers Railways Division annual dinner, he said the Treasury was 'mired deep in its own dogma', 'studying its own entrails for inspiration instead of seeking out what has to be done by the end of the century if the remnants of our newly-rediscovered industrial economy are to survive to employ our children'.

He criticised the failure to get the link project off the ground: 'Five years ago, BR was about to respond to the call for a new line to the tunnel by going out to consultation about four routes across Kent blighting about the entire county in the latter stages of a property boom.' As a result, he said, 'Nimbyism ran riot'.

Then after the route had been prepared at the cost of almost pounds 50m, 'enter, one weekend in October, the Blond Prince of our story, Michael Heseltine, and it was back to the drawing board again' because the route had been changed to go through east, rather than south, London.

Now, 18 months later, British Rail is waiting 'to hear if this Government will choose a route this month'. 'This tragi-comedy in umpteen acts is poised to advance again, but do not fool yourselves that the fat lady is about to sing, heralding the finale,' Sir Alastair said. He was worried whether the Treasury would accept it needs to be a 'joint public/private' financed project. The project, costed at around pounds 3bn, was too expensive to be funded entirely by private capital, he argued.