Plans in the UK to build a 13km long single bore tunnel between Leatherhead and Merstham in Surrey, have been blasted by a local Member for Parliament.

Crispin Blunt, MP for Reigate, in Surrey, described the possible construction phase as, “absolutely monstrous” believing it would lead to environmental damage and disruption to his constituency.

The large diameter single bore tunnel forms a critical section of ‘Central Railway’, a 650km long high-speed freight rail line, currently on the drawing board, that if constructed could see Lille in France linked with Liverpool, via the Channel Tunnel. The line has been planned to remove up to 5M lorries from the UK’s packed roads, 10,000 per day alone could be removed from the inept M25.

Central Railway Director of Government Affairs, Chris Savage told T&TI that consultation was an ongoing process and many details had to be resolved, but that construction of the new North Downs Tunnel was crucial to the intended staged opening of the railway. He added that siting of the portals had been chosen to minimise the impacts on residential properties.

Central Railway has asked the UK Government to submit a hybrid Bill as the approval mechanism for the project in the UK. This will allow Parliament to debate the strategic national importance of the scheme, while giving a forum for local concerns through constituency MPs. If passed, the hybrid Bill would provide Central Railway with powers “broadly in line with those granted for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.” Blunt commented that if this happened then “all the consultation in the world wouldn’t matter a fig.”

Savage said they were looking for a government decision in principle to proceed with the Bill, which may be requested as early November this year. Central Railway is hopeful the Bill would pass through Parliament in 1-2 years.

With overtones of ‘not in my backyard’, Blunt felt the business case for Central Railway was “deeply flawed” and, although supporting the removal of lorries from the road network, he believed that in this case the “scheme won’t fly”, although he did not elaborate.

Central Railway says it intends to learn from recent experiences with CTRL, Savage told T&TI, this gave “reassurance that if you structure it properly it can be done.” These include professional programme management from the outset, avoid excessive optimism in early stage cost estimates, minimise difficult interface and possession issues with other parts of the UK rail system and to put key contracts out to tender with pain/gain incentives. Savage said that Parsons Corporation was programme manager for the development of the project and would probably be the client’s project manager when construction commences.