PHASED CONSTRUCTION of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is now inevitable, European Transport Commissioner Neil Kinnock said this week.
But he added that a delay to the second phase of the CTRL would only be acceptable if completion was achieved 'more or less' within the programme already agreed.
Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday Kinnock said: 'One hopes that the issue as it currently exists in the UK can be resolved, and resolved on the basis of sustained progress towards a complete CTRL.'
He was speaking before meeting representatives of the Fast Tracks to Europe Alliance of British local government officials and businessmen, who want the link built in a single phase.
Kinnock, whose responsibilities include overseeing the development of strategic Trans European Networks, expressed concern that Britain would fall behind the rest of Europe if the CTRL is delayed.
'What we're all supremely conscious of is that the link from Brussels to Paris and on to the French coast and the UK should be completed. Because of our commitment to TENs we want to see the most rapid completion of this critical link.'
Kinnock's remarks added political pressure to a growing campaign mounted by the Fast Tracks to Europe Alliance.
But the former Labour leader admitted that he has no direct power to influence the government's decision. 'This is not a situation where we have any formal or legal powers,' he said.
The European Commission has already invested ECU120M (£106M) in the project for preparatory studies - more than on any other TENs project.
A further £106M is available to fund financing interest charges. Kinnock ruled out any extra European funding for the moment.
But he added: 'It is conceivable that as we develop the TENs legislation and put a strong emphasis on inter-modal links there will be an opportunity for more funds in the future.'
In the UK MPs are understood to be pushing for the inclusion of a performance bond in the CTRL operating agreement. This would only be released once work on phase two had started.
Matthew Jones in Brussels