TREASURY OFFICIALS are this week understood to be pressing Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to delay further his decision on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link rescue.
The Treasury is said to fear that, should Prescott go ahead and approve the LCR/Railtrack rescue package without more detailed analysis, it would be taking on too many unforeseen risks.
A City source in contact with the Treasury claimed: There is a view that more time is still needed to consider the options. The situation regarding what the Treasury thinks is that there has been insufficient analysis to make a decision.
Supporters of the link immediately voiced concerns that LCR and its technical subsidiary Rail Link Engineering will continue to haemorrhage staff and expertise if the decision is put off (NCE 5 March). If key staff are lost it will be difficult to reinstate the programme and maintain a consistent approach, said an adviser to the pro-link Fast Tracks to Europe campaign.
Prescott had been expected to make a decision on proposals put to him by Railtrack and LCR by 31 March. He had already extended the time available to find a rescue package by four weeks because of the complexity of the proposals.
A spokesman for the DETR would say only that it was working closely with the Treasury at ministerial and official level. But he added: We cant rule out an extension to the deadline.
Meanwhile, in a separate development, supporters of the CTRL stepped up their campaign by launching a broadside at Railtrack. Camden Council leader Richard Arthur called on the company to come clean over its commitment to the Thameslink 2000 project.
At privatisation, Railtrack agreed with the government and the Rail Franchising Director to build the 580M scheme or pay 200M in compensation to the Secretary of State. In return the government wrote off more than 1bn of British Rail debt.
Camden believes that Railtrack may be trying to exploit a get-out clause in the contract by proposing its two phase link. Under the agreement Railtrack can ditch Thameslink 2000 without any cost penalty if LCR does not build the 150M St. Pancras station box .
The claims have so far been rejected by Railtrack: Were looking at different ways of building the St Pancras box with DETR and OPRAF. Were committed to seeing it go ahead, said a spokeswoman.
(See Commentary, page 8)