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Can Crossrail stay on track?

In May, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mayor of London Boris Johnson formally unveiled the start of preparatory construction works on the long-awaited Crossrail project, laying the foundations for a new underground station at Canary Wharf.

The scheme has been touted as the biggest infrastructure project in Europe since the Channel Tunnel, and will see the construction of 118km of rail line across the Greater London area.

Earlier this year Crossrail made a bold statement of ambition by placing Rob Holden, the urban tunnelling specialist who oversaw the building of the Channel Tunnel, at the helm of the project. Crossrail involves the colossal engineering challenge of developing 21km of new twin-bore tunnels under central London.

US engineering giant Bechtel was awarded the lion’s share of the infrastructure development work in April when it won the project delivery partner contract following a six-month competitive bidding process. The main construction work is not set to begin until next year, with operations due to commence in 2017.

However, there remain a number of unanswered questions as to how the massive venture will receive the estimated £16 billion (€18 billion; $25 billion) of financing it requires to reach fruition. Companies set to benefit from the new line are required to stump up part of the cost, with Canary Wharf Group contributing £150 million to a new Isle of Dogs station and debt-burdened airport operator BAA putting in £230 million. The Corporation of London is seeking a further £150 million of funding from business.

At this stage the Department for Transport and Transport for London is looking at a total bill of around £13 billion, although what proportion of this will take the form of direct grants, is so far unclear.