GOVERNMENT BACKED proposals to develop London's Crossrail underground railway were this week challenged by a cheaper alternative plan developed by Arup and US consultant Aecom.
Arup/Aecom's plan urges the government to scrap proposals to extend the Crossrail tunnels from Liverpool Street to Canary Wharf and north Kent.
Instead they concentrate on construction of a twin bore tunnel between Paddington and Liverpool street.
The two firms have developed detailed proposals for a scheme called London Regional Metro (LRM).
They claim strong local government and developer support for the scheme which focuses solely on linking Paddington to Liverpool Street via the tunnel.
The LRM plans have been with ministers since October. They rival those being developed by Transport for London (TfL) and the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) for submission to ministers next month.
TfL/SRA's Cross London Rail Link (CLRL) route connects Paddington to Liverpool Street but also includes provision for an extension to north Kent via the Canary Wharf development.
The CLRL proposals are unlikely to include recommendations, so ministers will have to decide how many phases of the project should be tackled at once. The core of the project is the Paddington to Liverpool Street section.
Under the LRM plan, a link to Canary Wharf is included only as a future proposal to be delivered by extending the Docklands Light Railway from its underground terminus at Bank to Farringdon.
Arup director Terry Hill said the LRM proposal was launched because of fears that indecision over the scope of the TfL/SRA scheme was jeopardising the project.
'By making the project all singing and dancing, it becomes uncontrollable. So we have tried to focus on what brings the biggest benefits for the least outlay for the government, ' said Hill.
Aecom subsidiary FaberMaunsell corporate development director Peter Head said the core route could also be delivered for 'substantially' less than CLRL's plans.
Head said the biggest saving would be because the LRM did not need dedicated trains. The CLRL plan is expected to rely on the use of special Crossrail trains which can run on adapted suburban lines.
Head added that the LRM could also be designed, built and financed using only private cash up to its completion in 2011.
The government would then pay capital grants and Network Rail operating fees after this date, without the need for the project to use public money.
A CLRL spokesman said this week that they would not be drawn into rivalry between the routes, and that it was preparing to submit its final Crossrail route to ministers as normal.
The route will be split into separately priced phases.
Taking the initiative
Arup is no stranger to the idea of submitting unsolicited rail proposals.
In 1991 the firm's alternative route for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link via east London was adopted by then transport secretary Malcolm Rifkind. It is now being built as proposed after being developed as an alternative to the route through south London developed by British Rail.
The Arup route promised a greater amount of regeneration in East London, which helped justify spending public money on the project, strengthening CTRL's financial case.
As with the London Regional Metro idea, Arup built relationships with landowners and property developers to ensure their support for the route, reducing the risk of planning problems.
Arup also suggested adopting European-standard track gauges across the new railway to allow international freight to use the line.
London Regional Metro's timetable for delivering Crossrail
October 2002: London Regional Metro proposal submitted to ministers
Late February 2003: Alistair Darling backs LRM paving the way to draft a hybrid bill
November 2003: Hybrid bill included in Queen's Speech
Early 2004: Tenders invited
Mid 2005: Hybrid bill gains Royal Assent
Late 2005: Construction and financing contracts signed.Construction starts
Late 2011: London Regional Metro completed