For the past decade, I have had the enormous privilege of working on one of the most exciting and historic railway projects in the past 100 years - the high-speed line linking London to the entrance of the Channel Tunnel.
The high-speed railway and stations will be complete in summer 2007, including all testing and commissioning. This allows for a period to fit out the stations and a programme of staff familiarisation. International services will commence from Eurostar's new central London home at St Pancras International when the project opens for commercial services on 14 November 2007. With one year to go, I am proud to say that we are well on the way to delivering the UK's first new railway for over a century on time and on budget.
Building of the high-speed line is an incredible story of remarkable engineering and outstanding human ingenuity. It is one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken in Europe. Consider for a moment some of our achievements: over 100km of new high-speed railway, a quarter of it buried underground; the magnicent Medway Bridge, major viaducts and over 150 other bridges; new international stations spanning the high-speed line at Ebbseet and Stratford; a new state-ofthe art maintenance depot at Temple Mills; 13 listed buildings moved; and the refurbishment and modernisation of one of London's best-known landmarks, St Pancras station.
But what does it really mean?
Next year, it will be possible to get from the centre of London to the centre of Paris in two hours and 15 minutes, and reach Brussels in under two hours.
From 2009 domestic journey times will also be dramatically reduced, with the introduction of new high-speed domestic commuter services on the line.
This is the power of the highspeed line, it's changing the geography of the UK. Distance measured by 'length' is no longer so important - it's 'time' that really matters.
However, the new railway is about more than just the challenge of its construction.
It has also become an active and powerful catalyst for regeneration; £10bn of investment in areas adjacent to the new stations will result in the provision for 100,000 new jobs, 18,000 new homes as well as major retail, leisure and commercial facilities.
New metropolitan centres are being developed at Ebbseet and King's Cross. In Stratford, one of the largest regeneration schemes in Europe has a new international station at its heart and London & Continental Railways (LCR) is overseeing the construction of the Olympic Village on land it owns.
The vast improvements to transport infrastructure were at the heart of London's success in winning the chance to host the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. We will be making a signicant contribution to a successful Games as well as providing a cornerstone to the legacy the Games will leave.
However, the incredible St Pancras International station is the 'jewel in the crown' of the high-speed rail project. This magnicent building will have its iconic status restored as we seek to redene the station for the 21st century. St Pancras is being painstakingly returned to its original Victorian grandeur, to become one of the UK's busiest transport hubs and a truly spectacular destination in its own right.
With a strong track record of success behind us and as we approach the final run-in, we have chosen this time to name the new railway line 'High Speed 1'. High Speed 1 or HS1 will become the name that passengers and beneciaries of the line will use to describe the project.
The HS1 logo will appear wherever people interact with the project, for example, on roadsigns, on maps and atlases, on signage at the stations, in travel guides and webpages, as well as information material associated with the project.
CTRL has served us well, but as the focus of work on the project shifts to bringing the infrastructure to life I hope you will read and hear a lot more about High Speed 1.
We are delighted to work with NCE to bring to you the story of how the high-speed line is being brought into the heart of London, the considerable challenges we've overcome and those that still await.
I hope you get some appreciation of the fact that the success the high-speed rail project has enjoyed up to this point is a welcome and powerful testament to a truly remarkable team of people. As well as being a source of inspiration, some of our aim has been to echo a little of the great engineering achievements of the past. In particular, I hope we have done Sir William Barlow, one of the great railway engineers and architect for the original St Pancras project, proud.
Now, over 100 years later, that same pioneering spirit lives on. The men and women who have contributed to build High Speed 1 are modern-day pioneers. I would like to pay sincerest thanks to those who had the vision and the sense of adventure to dream, plan, design and construct this country's first high-speed railway.
I would like to thank colleagues at LCR, Union Railways, Rail Link Engineering as well as the very many contractors and support staff that have each made their contribution in taking this groundbreaking project forward with such admirable dedication.
In particular, I pay tribute to those with the foresight to give the go ahead for the railway and who gave all the necessary support that projects of this size and complexity inevitably require.
They really are all 'pioneers of the 21st century'.
Rob Holden Chief executive ofcer, London & Continental Railways