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Railtrack poised to take control of CTRL

RAILTRACK IS expected to take control of Channel Tunnel Rail Link operator London & Continental Railways under a rescue plan submitted to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the end of last week.

As owner of LCR, Railtrack is expected to then appoint Rail Link Engineering, LCR's engineering arm, as project manager for construction of the line.

Industry sources expect Prescott to announce his agreement to the proposals within the next few weeks. Last month he gave LCR until 29 May to produce a detailed rescue plan after agreeing a framework proposal (NCE 2 April).

This framework was based on a two phase construction programme with phase one linking Ashford in Kent to a spur south of Ebbsfleet to carry Eurostar trains into Waterloo International on existing track.

But it is now likely that phase one track will also continue on to Ebbsfleet where a temporary terminus will be built. This will allow Railtrack to run a shuttle service to the Continent for people in the South East.

Ebbsfleet is at the centre of a huge retail development close to the M25 and has parking for around 13,000 vehicles. One transportation expert said motorists could use the area as a park and ride centre for Continental trips.

Phase two of the construction will take the line through tunnels in east London to St Pancras and the West Coast Main Line. But a City source said it was unlikely that Railtrack had made any firm commitment to its construction. It is expected that work on phase two will only be triggered by passenger levels passing an agreed threshold.

Rescue plans are also expected to confirm the transfer of the Eurostar train operating franchise from LCR to a new operator made up of National Express, British Airways and French rail company SNCF. The new company will then pay Railtrack an access charge.

Public subsidy for the project is expected to be restructured. Originally LCR was to receive a £1.8bn subsidy in return for providing commuter train paths from Kent to St Pancras. Although these train paths will not be available until phase two is finished, it is expected that subsidy will be needed to help make the loss-making Eurostar service viable during phase one.

Andrew Bolton

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