ON December 18 the Act authorising construction of the 108 km Channel Tunnel Rail Link to St Pancras in London received Royal Assent. London & Continental Railways, which won the concession to finance and build CTRL in February 1996, is now free to acquire land, undertake detailed design, and prepare for flotation next year.

Time-critical works should be ready for tendering by the end of this year, allowing construction to start in the second half of 1998. The line is due to open in 2003.

Latest estimate for design and construction of CTRL is £2·8bn. LCR will use future profits from Eurostar (UK), the subsidiary operating the British end of existing London - Paris/Brussels services from Waterloo, to provide an income stream during construction. The government will make substantial grants available once the line is two-thirds complete.

Early in 1998, LCR has to raise around £1bn in equity and £1·4bn in loans. Chairman Sir Derek Hornby insisted that the November 18 fire in the Channel Tunnel, which has cut Eurostar services from 52 to 40 a day and extended journey times, would cause 'no alteration to plans for the flotation'.

LCR Chief Executive Adam Mills expected a quick return to the 100000 passengers a week being carried before the fire. He believed Eurostar was still 'on course to profitability', and said CTRL would bring London within 2h 15min of Paris and 2h of Brussels. John Armitt, responsible as head of LCR subsidiary Union Railways for getting CTRL built, stressed that the design speed was 300 km/h, and trains could run at this speed provided noise and vibration experienced by lineside residents was 'no worse than figures in the environmental assessment'. Open access provisions meant that 'you could have German or other trains' as well as Eurostar.

Asked about using the eastern part of CTRL to speed up Waterloo services prior to completion of the 20 km London tunnels, Armitt replied 'the Act allows us to open early - it would be silly not to.'

CTRL programme

1997 Transport & Works order sought for Stratford Station and better WCML connection. Time-critical works designed and tendered

1998 Flotation of LCR. Start of construction

1999 Boring of London tunnels begins

2001 Laying of permanent track begins. Tunnel boring completed

2002 St Pancras Station completed. Trackwork completed. Fixed equipment installed. Start of testing and commissioning

2003 Commissioning completed. Permit to Use issued. CTRL opens