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Bechtel ousted from Hong Kong's West Rail

US CONSTRUCTION GIANT Bechtel has lost its project management role on Hong Kong's pounds4.9bn West Rail project after client Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation opted to take back control of the project.

West Rail director Ian Thoms said there had been pressure on KCRC for work to be carried out by local Hong Kong people, but added: 'Another factor is cost effectiveness. Bechtel has provided good professionals but at a price - it is not cheap.'

Bechtel had expected to continue overseeing the massive project - in which it has been involved since the early stages (NCE Hong Kong handover supplement June 1997) - throughout the construction phase.

But with work now getting under way - the first civils tunnelling contract is let and ground breaking due for 26 October - Bechtel's role will be over by next month, and full control will be back with the state-owned client.

News of the move by KCRC comes just two weeks after Bechtel was commissioned to take over management of the Jubilee Line Extension project from client London Underground's diminishing team (NCE 1 October). Although precise figures have not been disclosed, it is thought that Bechtel stands to make several million pounds in fees if the project is completed before the new millennium.

In contrast to LU, Thoms said KCRC was keen to build up its team and establish continuity of project management, particularly as many other projects were planned to be built in Hong Kong. 'This allows us to take control of our own destiny,' he said.

West Rail's first phase will create a 30km line from Kowloon through tunnels and over viaducts to the new town of Tuen Mun. Construction will be complex, with just 8km running at surface level.

The line is expected to be heavily used and will also generate jobs and spin-off benefits, said Thoms. 'And it demonstrates that even in difficult times, Hong Kong has the wherewithall to drive forward major projects.'

Bechtel's original contract agreement has been extended to allow KCRC to build up its project team. KCRC still has 50 Bechtel staff on its books and by the time it takes over completely next month, the project's design will be about 85% defined.

Lisa Russell

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