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Merseytram bosses pin revival hopes on Prescott

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LIVERPOOL'S TRANSPORT bosses were seeking urgent talks with deputy prime minister John Prescott this week, in a bid to resurrect the city's troubled light rail scheme.

Transport secretary Alistair Darling dealt the project a serious blow on Monday when he capped the government's contribution to the scheme at £170M in line with a commitment made in 2002.

ocal passenger transport executive Merseytravel said the project needed a £204M government contribution.

But Darling claimed Merseytram costs have spiralled in the last three years, requiring a government contribution of £238M.

Merseytravel said it wanted clarification of the figure quoted by Darling, claiming it represents a worst-case scenario.

Sources close to Merseytravel privately expressed optimism about the project. But Merseytravel chairman Mark Dowd was more pessimistic.

'Merseytram is not dead but will require a comeback akin to that of Liverpool in the European Cup, ' he said.

'It is impossible to deliver Merseytram Line One for £170M'.

He said steel prices had increased by 40% and construction costs by 20% since 2002.

'We are asking for nothing more than the original £170M, index-linked to inflation - which would amount to £204M - and not a penny more, ' he added.

A Merseytram spokesman said Darling's announcement was 'a bolt from the blue', but that private sector partners remained committed to the project, a view backed by scheme designer Parsons Brinckerhoff and builder Grant Rail.

Problems have dogged the scheme. Clashes between Merseytravel and Liverpool City Council over last-minute route changes led to one of two originally shortlisted consortia dropping out (NCE 7 October 2004). The contract was re-tendered earlier this year.

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