PLANS FOR a £1bn upgrade of the cross London Thameslink commuter line were this week facing a 12 month delay.
Project sources have confirmed that the first major station construction contract has been put back until 2004.
NCE learned that Taylor Woodrow and Mott MacDonald's design manage and construct contract to expand Farringdon station will not start until July 2004. Work involves extending platforms and building a new ticket hall.
Detailed and preliminary design is also being wound down for other station extensions.
Design work is expected to be close to standstill by the end of March.
A Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) spokesman said this week that the project was being put on hold pending approval from Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. He has to decide whether to call a second public inquiry into parts of the scheme after the first inquiry highlighted planning problems with the Borough Market, Blackfriars and London Bridge sections.
Prescott was expected to decide whether to authorise continued design work or call a second public inquiry before Christmas but failed to do so.
Without a decision, continuing with detailed design and starting construction would be risky, said the SRA spokesman.
'It would just be a waste of taxpayer's money, ' he added.
Thameslink 2000 is designed to improve existing Thameslink services in London but also extend the service from 51 stations to 169.
It is intended to reduce overcrowding on Thameslink, London commuter services, and London Underground as well as also aiding dispersal of passengers arriving at St Pancras on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link .
The slowdown has forced track operator Network Rail, to lay off 250 staff on the project by March. Network Rail is acting as the SRA's project manager on the scheme.
Project engineers this week said they felt that the halt in works did not necessarily mark the end of the project, but that its overall cost would rise unless a decision was made soon.
'It's always more expensive when you break up the team - you lose people and then you lose knowledge, ' said one.
INFOPLUS www. nceplus.co.uk/rail