CHANNEL TUNNEL Rail Link (CTRL) engineers this week warned they would miss the December 2006 completion deadline because of a row about removing 7,000 coffins from a north London cemetery.
Excavation work in a graveyard near the Anglican St Pancras Old Church stopped last week after the parish priest complained that bodies were being removed with mechanical diggers.
The excavation is part of contract C105 which is being carried out by a Costain/O'Rourke/Bachy Soletanche/Emcor joint venture.
The contract involves building the new CTRL terminus at St Pancras and carrying out track realignments in the St Pancras region, known as Area 100.
It is already understood to be behind schedule.
As NCE went to press project manager Rail Link Engineering (RLE) was negotiating the introduction of 'more respectful' working practices with the Church of England.
RLE is expected to agree to remove each coffin individually by hand. It was unclear this week how long it will take to excavate and rebury the 7,000 coffins.
'There is no stretch in the timetable on Area 100, ' an RLE source said. 'So there will be a delay in the programme, unless we can make it up somewhere.'
RLE said it had originally planned to remove the graves one by one but that delays had led to project managers stepping up removal and asking archaeologists to leave the site early.
A spokesman added that it had always stressed to the archaeologists that project completion to time and budget would take priority over archaeological discoveries. It had the power to ensure this under the CTRL Act.