THE STRATEGIC Rail Authority made a dramatic U-turn this week, reopening selection of a preferred bidder for the East Coast Main Line franchise.
The move marks SRA acceptance of Railtrack's cost estimates, which it had criticised for being excessive, with figures more than doubling to £4bn.
SRA chief executive Mike Grant suspended negotiations with the ECML franchise bidders because of the cost increases that could 'range between 20% and, if specific provisions for contingencies were included, nearly 100%'.
The SRA will now reconsider whether to award the franchise to current holder GNER or to Virgin Trains.
Railtrack has maintained that a 20% cost increase for core elements of the line upgrade, was not unusual for a project of this size. Increases above this were for other options it has been asked to cost or 'added extras'.
One example cited by SRA chairman Sir Alastair Morton this week was the spending of hundreds of millions of pounds for 'marginal increases' in capacity between Newcastle and Edinburgh.
The work will see much of the route upgraded to four lines, with crossing paths transferred to underpasses and flyovers.
Signalling improvements and the introduction of automatic train protection are also part of the package.