WORK ON a major rail project is due to recommence after an escalating row between Amec and train operator GoVia prompted the contractor to walk off site last week.
A £65M design and build project to upgrade six new train depots in the south east of England is still under negotiation despite Amec winning the tender last April.
The depots are to house maintenance facilities for new rolling stock to replace slam-door trains - the oldest on the network. The contract is critical to the introduction of the new trains.
The row is believed to stem from failure to sign a contract for the works in May, subsequent disagreement over the client's demands for variations, and fears about funding for the project.
Amec has been working under 'letters of intent' issued for short periods since winning the tender, instead of being awarded a contract.
The walk-off followed the failure to issue another letter recently, placing Amec in contractual limbo and heightening uncertainty over the project.
GoVia, awarded the franchise by the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to run trains between London and the south coast in October 2000 for 20 years, was rocked in August when the franchise was slashed to seven years.
The SRA also announced plans to take over major infrastructure work.
Uncertainty over who will fund the depots has added to the present difficulties, with GoVia facing a shorter franchise period for its investment. A GoVia spokesman said the SRA would now ultimately fund the works.
Contract documents drawn up by consultant Halcrow for project manager Symonds have been reviewed since May.
The design and construct contract with GoVia subsidiary South Central Limited involves tight scheduling for the contractor.
Trains have to be stored elsewhere while depots are being refurbished. Severe penalties for delays further add to the contractor's risk.
Variations prompted by the contract review led to further disagreements, with Amec understood to be concerned about the scope of the changes.
Work is due to be finished by September 2004.
In a statement, Amec said that it had stopped work but would start again now that 'the provisional commercial arrangement under which we have been working has been extended.'