THIS MONTH is due to see the start of work on the long-planned high-speed rail link between London and the Channel Tunnel. Private-sector promoter London & Continental Railways announced preferred bidders for the first civil engineering contracts on September 10. The four contracts totalling £320m will be formally signed this month to enable site works to get under way.

Under the terms of restructuring proposals approved by the government on June 3 (RG 7.98 p440), LCR is to set up two wholly-owned subsidiaries to handle construction of the line in two sections. Provided Railtrack’s shareholders endorse the deal at an extraordinary general meeting on September 28, Union Railways (South) will be used by Railtrack to manage work on the 69 km Section 1 between the Channel Tunnel and Fawkham Junction, which includes a spur connecting the CTRL proper at Southfleet to existing lines. Section 1 will be purchased by Railtrack on completion in 2003 for £1·5bn. Railtrack will also assume £700m of LCR’s debt, and will spend £65m upgrading existing lines from Fawkham Jc to London Waterloo.

Union Railways (North) is expected to start work in 2001 on the 39 km Section 2 between Southfleet and the London terminal at St Pancras. Railtrack retains an option to acquire this section also on completion ’around 2007’. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said on September 8 that he was ’minded to approve’ an order permitting construction of an international station at Stratford in east London.

Construction of the route between Fawkham Jc and the Medway Valley has been awarded to a joint venture of Alfred McAlpine and AMEC Civil Engineering for £70m. The Medway Crossing and 3 km North Downs tunnel, worth £30m and £80m respectively, will be built by the Eurolink joint venture of Miller Civil Engineering, Dumez-GTM of France and Beton und Monierbau of Austria. The section of line through Ashford, worth £140m, has been awarded to Kvaerner Construction. Four major contracts remain to be awarded, including the signalling package.

Rail Link Engineering, a joint venture of LCR shareholders Bechtel, Ove Arup, Halcrow and Systra, will continue to act as project manager, but will be responsible to Railtrack through URS for design of the CTRL and oversight of the contractors. o