DEPUTY PRIME Minister John Prescott has given the go-ahead for Railtrack and London Underground to integrate the Tube's subsurface lines with the national rail network.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Tuesday, Prescott also announced the start of the prequalification process for the two deep Tube packages.
In all, the Public Private Partnership aims to deliver £7bn of private investment to upgrade the network. The sub-surface package, worth about £3bn, encompasses the Hammersmith & City, District, Metropolitan, Circle and East London lines.
Integration possibilities arising from the deal include new fast connections between London's five airports and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link terminals.
New services could run from Heathrow to the City, from Brighton via London Gatwick and East London to North London.
Business lobby group London First said: 'There is strong logic in encouraging greater integration between the rail and sub-surface lines that use the same gauge. London needs through connections, which mean that passengers do not have to change from rail to Tube. An early win could be achieved by going ahead with the extensions to the East London Line.'
But an ICE spokesman said: 'We are unhappy they are going for the infrastructure/operations split which has caused problems on the rail system.'
A spokesman for the Gibb/ Taylor Woodrow/Siemens/Mott MacDonald consortium said: 'I would be interested in what Railtrack proposed that couldn't be proposed by others without competition. What do they have that the rest of industry can't provide? It must be something very, very attractive to the Government.'
In return for exclusive talks on the subsurface lines, Railtrack has confirmed it will not be seeking to pre-qualify for the two other deep Tube packages. Selected bidders will be invited to submit tenders for the deep Tube lines in the autumn.
'We're aware of considerable interest in the market so we have reason to expect keenly priced bids,' said Prescott.