No one can summarise what the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is about better than Mark Bostock of Ove Arup.
'This is the first time that the full impact of high speed train technology has been experienced in the UK. In the past it has been cut and paste.'
It was Bostock who promoted the strategic idea of bringing the new line into London north of the Thames so that it could both revitalise east London and connect directly with lines to the Midlands and North.
With the earthworks and structures under way all along the 74km of Section One, the form of the new railway is beginning to come together.
There is no mistaking the French Train a Grande Vitesse technology - a switchback vertical alignment designed for multi-axle electric traction rather than the steam locomotives of the 19th century.
But the trace is extraordinarily slim compared with the new lines in France.
The railway's trackside ancillaries such as the power supply, drainage and communications cabling will be crammed into a narrow corridor so as to reduce the land take. It is all part of the close attention to the environment that is one of the characteristics of this project.
Another is the shared incentive of the target cost contract developed by Rail Link Engineering - the consortium carrying out the engineering design and project management of CTRL. There is a commitment permeating every aspect of CTRL that it will be finished on time, to budget and with no wrangling over claims once the job is done. With the civil engineering work well over a third completed it looks as if this can and will be achieved.
Key dates are being met and everyone is keeping a tight grip on costs.
What this means is that next year those involved with the highly sequential work of overlaying the railway infrastructure on the civil construction are likely to have a clear run. Logistics of that operation is 'one of the biggest challenges of building the railway', according to Chris Jago who is managing director of client Union Railways (South) and Railtrack's senior representative on the project.
'Our hope is that we will have the best part of a year to commission it, ' says Jago. Target date for opening is October 2003. Being the first 300km/h line in Britain the railway is likely to be given exceptionally close scrutiny before it is passed fit for carrying the public.
The design of the railway is a hybrid, relying on a lot of French TGV practice and also complying with the requirements of Railway safety principles and guidance, a series of documents covering all safety aspects of UK railway operations.
But what is being built now is only part of CTRL. Not until Section Two is completed, taking the line to St Pancras, will the real benefits of the £5.2bn project be felt. Promoter London & Continental Railways and the Government are committed to building Section Two.
That commitment follows from the highly complex negotiations with the Government after franchise holder LCR's revelation in January 1998 that it could not raise the funding for the railway from the Channel Tunnel to London.
Had LCR walked away it would have been necessary for the Government to put the project out to competition again.
Additional costs of that option and unravelling the complex legal involvements have been variously estimated at several hundred millions.
'It would have taken at least a year and could you have had an effective competition?' asks LCR chief executive Rob Holden.
Most of the organisations that had the ability to form part of any new joint venture bid were already involved in the project. And the CTRL was notorious for its previous history of delays and competition-winning promoters who subsequently aborted.
Government's £2.65bn bond issue to help fund the project was completed in February last year. Railtrack is committed to buying Section One on completion, at cost. The target price (1997 values) is £1.67bn and Railtrack has a keen interest in making sure the cost does not overrun.
Railtrack has an option to purchase Section Two which expires on 1 July 2003. LCR is working through its company Union Railways (North) (URN) and is on a schedule to let the first contracts for Section Two in December this year.
'We will only award major contracts for Section Two when financing is in place, ' says Holden. 'We're not going to make the mistakes we made before.'
The plan allows a full six month period of exclusivity in which contractors' proposals for alternative methods can be incorporated in the project.
There will be five and a half years from construction start to opening - six months longer than on Section One to reflect the additional complexity of the work.
It was intended to have an exclusivity period with Section One. But that was lost in the rush to get the project started on the ground in October 1998 following the renegotiation with Government.
Last month Railtrack began its due diligence process to examine the commitments of URN and the robustness of the £2.25bn (1997 prices) estimate for the construction cost of Section Two. A key factor in Railtrack's decision will be the results of the Rail Regulator's review this summer.
Railtrack will also have an option on the purchase from LCR of its rights to develop the 'railway lands' at King's Cross. This option to purchase at current market value expires a few months after completion of Section Two. Development profits would be shared with Government.
Ken Turnbull RLE project director 'The one area of under-achievement is construction safety, ' says Ken Turnbull.
'The accident rate is one third of the national average but it is a long way from the target of a zero accident philosophy.
We have to try harder.'
Turnbull has been with the project three and a half years and was very closely involved with creation of the special form of contract used on CTRL.
Born on Tyneside he 'moved south after graduating as a chemical engineering student at Leeds'. The move was completed with a job in London at Woodhall Duckham, which later became Babcock Contractors.
'I'd been there eight years and a colleague left to go to to Bechtel. As he went out the door I said: 'If there are any jobs give me a call'.' A week later the man called Turnbull. 'I went, intending to stay for two years.'
Next month he retires after 30.
Lynn Wilcox RLE project manager, Section One design and procurement 'You can drown in the detail of problem issues. Overall you have to maintain objectives, ' says Lynn Wilcox. 'I come in and put a focus on it.'
His job for the past two years has been pushing along the design of Section One. Getting it out to tender.
Getting the final approved drawings out for construction.
'Now we are nearly over the hill, ' he says.
There will be 7,850 drawings in all and by early February RLE had issued 6,870 of them. 'It has been very, very intense. We haven't met all the dates, ' he admits. 'We underestimated the work involved with third parties and it has been far more onerous than anybody calculated.'
A Bechtel man since 1968, but for what he calls a five year 'detour', Wilcox became set on the idea of a civil engineering career at an early age. He was born in the north west US in Washington State but home is Tucson, Arizona. His father was the National Park Service engineer for the Grand Canyon and he grew up on its rim.
While at university in 1964 he went to work in Saudi Arabia. 'I said this is a good way to see the world and get someone else to pay.' Travelling in construction, he says: 'You get close to things, meet people and are not just seeing places as a tourist.'
He worked on refineries, chemical plants, airports and metros, including two spells on the Washington DC system.
Since 1987 Wilcox has worked solely on railways. His last job before moving to CTRL three and a half years ago was as project manager, until its cancellation, for the proposal effort for the East Los Angeles extension of the Los Angeles Metro.
Bernard Gambrill Head of public affairs Union Railways Want to know anything about the Channel Tunnel Rail Link? Ask Bernard.
Bernard Gambrill seems to know everything, literally everything, about the rail link.
If he cannot recall the precise detail, the appropriate reference publication will be whipped from one of the crammed bookcases in his fifth floor office at 106 Tottenham Court Road.
Gambrill has lived CTRL since the mid-1980s following the discovery by his boss at British Railways that he had a talent for public presentation that was being wasted sitting a drawing board.
In the years of planning leading up to examination of the Bill by the Parliamentary Committee, Gambrill became totally involved with the choice of route and interaction with the people whom it would affect.
During the passage of the Bill it was Gambrill, with fax machine under his desk in the committee room, who kept everyone fully briefed when there were any gaps in the evidence.
He is constantly on the go - by train of course - giving talks about CTRL. The presentations have the reputation for being better than anyone else's; always up to the moment with an unrivalled insight into what is going on.
CTRL Section One contracts
Contract 330: East Thames, Medway Valley & Waterloo Connection Alfred McAlpine/Amec JV Alfred McAlpine Construction/Amec Civil Engineering £380M, 16km
Contract 350/410: Medway Bridge & North Downs Tunnel Eurolink JV Miller Civil Engineering/DumezGTM/Beton und Monierbau £3110M, 8.5km
Contract 420: Mid-Kent, Boxley to Lenham Heath Hochtief/Norwest Holst JV £385M, 20km
Contract 430: Ashford Kvaerner Construction £3150M, 14.4km
Contract 440: East Kent, Ashford to Cheriton Balfour Beatty Major Projects £375M, 16km
Contract 434: Railway infrastructure modifications Mowlem & Co £360M
Contract 552: Ashford resignalling Westinghouse Signals £36M
Contract 570: Systemwide track and power Amec/Spie £120M for 75km of high speed track
Contract 550: Systemwide signalling and communications CCA Consortium CSEE Transport/Corning Communications/Amey Rail £56M Rail line up London & Continental Railways holds the government franchise to build and operate the CTRL and to own and operate Eurostar (UK).
LCR's shareholders are Bechtel, SBS Warburg Dillon Read, National Express Group, Systra (as subsidiary of French Railways SNCF), London Electricity, Ove Arup & Partners and Sir William Halcrow & Partners.
Rail Link Engineering is a consortium of the engineering shareholders in LCR: Bechtel, Systra, Arup and Halcrow.
Union Railways (South) is an LCR company controlled by Railtrack.
29 February: Government and London & Continental Railways sign Development Agreement obliging LCR to built CTRL
19 December: Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act passed by Parliament
28 April: First construction tenders issued
28 January: Crisis as LCR announces it cannot raise finance for CTRL
3 June: Government announces deal with LCR and Railtrack to build CTRL in two sections. Railtrack to buy Section One, has option on Section Two Tendering process restarts
September: First civils contracts let for Section One
15 October: Construction starts on site
18 February: LCR restructuring completed
Jan/Feb: System wide track/power and system wide signalling/comms contracts let
June: Tenders invited for civils work on Section Two, St Pancras to Ebbsfleet
July: Rail Regulator's determination on track access charges (CTRL remains unregulated)
Autumn: Railtrack and shareholders' decision on purchase of Section Two. Bond issues for LCR to finance Section Two
December: Completion date for first civils Section One, Contract 330
Dec to Jan 2001: Civils contract awards Section Two
June: Track and power installation begins on site Section One
July: Section Two construction starts, Ebbsfleet to St Pancras
Order must be placed if 200km/h commuter trains are to be ready for Section Two
July 1: Railtrack's option to buy Section Two expires October: Section One opens, London, Waterloo to Paris, Gare du Nord in 2 hr 35 min
December: St Pancras to Paris GdN service starts 2 hr 20 min
Circa 2010 SNCF completes Amiens Roye deviation; St Pancras to Paris GdN 2 hr 3 min