CENTRAL RAILWAY, the group bidding to build a £3bn dedicated freight line from Liverpool to Lille, this week accused Railtrack of 'talking down' its project to potential investors.
Central Railway chief executive Alan Stevens said the group needed to raise up to £10M to fund a Transport & Works Act application for the scheme by autumn next year.
Major rail contractors in the UK have already been approached, including Jarvis Rail, but the group has so far failed to find investors. This is despite the project being insured against the risk of Parliament voting down the TWA application.
Stevens claimed: 'Even if this scheme did not go ahead investors would get their money back. I have been told by UK contractors that they would like to get involved but that they don't want to upset Railtrack.'
He added: 'Railtrack is being very negative about the project and it is affecting our ability to raise money. There is an industry structure problem and Railtrack wants to be the only rail infrastructure operator in town.'
A spokesman for Railtrack rejected this. He said: 'We have written to Central Railway on several occasions to say that we are neutral on its project. We need to see from them how they plan to go about this scheme and, if it all stacks up, we will come out and support it.'
Stevens said the group was now holding talks with major European contractors and investment institutions who had given 'expressions of interest'.
The scheme would be built on mainly disused and under-used lines between the North West and the Channel Tunnel. It would use a large structure gauge which would allow lorry trailers to be carried on flat wagons.
A TWA application for the project was first submitted in 1996 but was rejected after protests from home owners and businesses affected by the route.
That application involved a route through built up areas in south west London. But Stevens said the group was now minded to put forward a new route passing around the west of London.
'We have had an initial feasibility study done by Parkman for a route which follows the inside of the M25. It would require some large viaducts and about 10km of tunnel but initial indications are that it would be no more expensive than the old route,' he said.
Total scheme cost, including rolling stock, property and advisors' fees, is estimated at £5.6bn. If the project wins parliamentary approval Central hopes to start the five year construction programme in 2003.
Central Railway: (020) 7930 6655 orwww.central-railway.co.uk