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Funding talks breathe life into CrossRail

THE £2.1bn CROSSRAIL project came a step closer to being reborn last month when senior executives from the Corporation of London and Railtrack met to thrash out issues preventing its realisation.

The Corporation, which has long been lobbying for the project - shelved by the last Government in early 1996 - has now prepared a business case to support its argument and is trying to put together a funding and operation consortium.

Corporation director of highways and transportation Joe Weiss said he was 'encouraged' by the meeting. 'Their revenue estimates for the project seem very close to our own', he added. 'They seem to see the project in a similar way to ourselves'.

The CrossRail scheme involves driving twin tunnels beneath central London for 9km between Paddington and Liverpool Street stations plus construction of five new stations. The Corporation claims that the project could be financed entirely with private funds and would produce an annual return of 15% for investors.

Weiss said that the Corporation hoped to announce a funding consortium for the scheme 'within weeks'. It also plans to widen the discussions to take in potential operators. 'Firms such as BAA and Virgin would be the constituents of an ideal consortium,' said Weiss.

But even with 100% private finance, the Government could block the scheme because of the potential impact it might have on London Underground revenue and operation, as well as the effect on existing train operating franchises.

Many observers hoped that the proposed Strategic Rail Authority would sort out such issues, but Weiss said: 'The SRA will not be up and running for two to three years, and we don't want to wait that long. We would hope to have permission to introduce the necessary legislation to authorise the scheme's go ahead within six months to a year.'

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