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This time, go means Go

THIS MORNING sees the end of more than a quarter of a century of postponements, delays, total redesigns and failures to deliver on promises.

This morning the Channel Tunnel Rail Link really is go. Well, at least the first part is.

Three contracting consortia have access to sites on Section 1, and physical work will begin on a programme set to have Eurostar trains speeding across Kent for the first time, says Railtrack, 'towards the end of 2003'. The vital - and more expensive - Section 2 under the Thames, tunnelling into north London with links to the Midlands and North, will be completed in 2006 or later.

After all the disappointments, blight, blundering and financial embarrassments of previous efforts to build a high speed railway to properly connect Britain with the Channel Tunnel and Europe, the CTRL has metamorphosed into a showpiece project for the Government. As the new millennium's grime settles on the Greenwich Dome, public awareness of the construction industry's performance will transfer to the rail link.

Attention will be focused there because, having decided CTRL fits its transport policy, New Labour and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott are punting several billions of government money on the project. And it will have to fit the Government's ideas of how the construction industry should perform as prescribed in the Prescott-commissioned Egan Report. CTRL will have to be delivered to time, to quality, to budget, and it will have to delight the client and users.

With the restructuring and asset hive-down of CTRL contract-holder London & Continental Railways, Railtrack becomes that client. Railtrack will buy the completed sections of CTRL and take ultimate control over construction of the project.

And to look after its interests in CTRL, Railtrack has succeeded in prising one of the main authors and inspiration drivers of the Egan report away from market leading client BAA. Civil engineer Simon Murray is moving to the railways to take on the hottest job in the industry. His brief is to deliver an engineering showpiece, with no excuses.

Like the Jubilee Line Extension and Channel Tunnel before it, CTRL has to make a good start. Unlike these projects it has to avoid the blame, shame and sack culture by sustaining that progress through to fit out and completion, on time.

Regardless of the many 'demonstration' projects put up in response to the Egan report, this is the big one. CTRL is the only one that really counts.

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