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Work is too far down the line to stop now

Work on the new ticket hall must be restarted, Bernadette Redfern argues.

All work on construction of the northern ticket hall at London Underground's King's Cross station has ground to halt pending a Department for Transport (DfT) review, leaving a huge hole where a state of the art transport hub should be.

The £250M project's future has been thrown into doubt following drastic downward revision of passenger numbers and because cost estimates have doubled since the project began (NCE 5 February). The review is due out early this summer.

But without the ticket hall, King's Cross risks becoming congested as soon as the adjoining Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) St Pancras terminus opens in 2007.

CTRL predicts that passenger numbers using the underground station will increase from 55,000 to 82,000 when CTRL opens, with steady growth continuing as the line gains popularity.

Passengers arriving from France could find themselves herded through tunnels to other ticket halls, while being treated to a view of an abandoned construction project.

Do we really want to give European visitors the impression that we have neither the room to welcome them nor the capacity to finish the job?

Compounding the need for phase two is the Fennell report into the devastating 1987 King's Cross fire, in which 31 people died.

Fennell recommended installing lifts from ticket hall to platform levels. These are meant to be delivered in the planned works.

Lifts are also vital for guide dog users (see main story).

The decision to conduct a review has been taken far too late.

Rather than belatedly seeking justification for the scheme, the government would be better off asking how it could justify not spending the money.

Millions have already been spent: Complex detailed design is complete and contractors have been working on the site since May 2002. Almost two years' work will be squandered if the scheme is axed.

The present review is taking six months. But if the government decides to put construction on hold for longer so it can conduct a more detailed examination of the business case, the waste could be far more serious.

A delay of a year - or five years - would mean contractors having to remobilise, rehire staff, and redesign and re-do work that has already been completed.

The cost of the scheme could double all over again.

A new ticket hall is badly needed at King's Cross. The DfT should stop dithering and give construction the green light.

Top 10 targets

Crossrail.

M1 widening schemes.

A406 London North Circular Road improvements.

London to Scotland high speed rail.

M74 extension.

New Mersey Crossing.

New Tyne Tunnel.

Thameslink 2000.

East London Line.

A303 widening.

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