START OF WORK on the £3bn Channel Tunnel Rail Link moved a big step closer this week with the announcement of preferred contractors for the first two tunnelling contracts.
Mowlem leads the Track Link joint venture, now in pole position for the £65M contract 210 London Tunnels West between St Pancras and Islington. Other members are Belgium's Besix and Germany's Philipp Holzmann.
Preferred bidder for the £135M contract 250, London Tunnels East contract - twin tunnels from Barking to Dagenham- is a joint venture between Dutch HBG sister firms Nuttall and Wayss & Freytag , plus Kier.
The two joint ventures will now negotiate detailed terms with client Rail Link Engineering under an exclusivity arrangement. This will see the contractors' teams relocating to RLE's Euston offices to pool knowledge, refine technical designs and firm up the costs.
Decisions on preferred contractors for the first four tunnelling packages was expected before Christmas but was delayed by last minute wrangles between bidders and RLE.
The hiccup was caused by disagreements over design risk allocation. Contractors also wanted guarantees that they would be paid bearing in mind the fact RLE's parent London & Continental has still to raise all of the finance it needs for the project.
Christmas holidays, particularly those of the project's lawyers, were also said by RLE to have contributed to delays.
Preferred bidders for contract 230, the £300M Stratford box and contract 320, the £100M Thames Tunnel have still to be named, with RLE able only to say that they will be awarded 'soon'. Announcement of the preferred bidder for £60M contract 410 North Downs Tunnel is expected to come after that.
Nuttall/Wayss & Freytag/Kier project manager David Court confirmed that its negotiations had taken slightly longer than anticipated, citing discussions over design issues as delaying factors. But he added: 'We have now got to a position where we can move forward with RLE towards starting construction.'
Court said that while the design of the tunnels is almost complete there was still scope to refine it and firm up costs.
Now that exclusivity agreements on contracts 250 and 210 are signed, the preferred contractors will be compensated for any work they do from now on if RLE decides not to award construction contracts. It is also expected that the contractors will be paid for developing the designs whether construction contracts are signed or not.
Contracts for 250 and 210 are expected to be signed in April. This will trigger orders for tunnel boring machines and other equipment, signalling the formal start of construction work.