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Railtrack receivership puts station schemes 'in limbo'

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A billion pounds worth of projects planned for London's mainline stations are officially 'in limbo' following Railtrack's fall into receivership.

Railtrack last week told Wilkinson Eyre Architects that its £300 million tower at Victoria Station has been put on hold. But Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners' £200 million Paddington Station scheme, TP Bennett's £350 million masterplan at London Bridge and John McAslan + Partners' £150 million extension project at King's Cross are also uncertain.

While Railtrack is promising that any contracts which have been signed will be honoured, thereafter they will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

'No firm decision about what will and will not happen will be made at this stage, ' a spokesperson said.

Wilkinson Eyre's project for Victoria Station - which is still in the pre-planning stage - was due for review at the end of September. But following the government's intervention, fees for the next tranche of work have not been given approval.

Wilkinson Eyre director Jim Eyre remains confident that the freeze is temporary and does not signal the end of the project. But clearly, he said, the government will need to sort out how future finance will be raised.

A key factor determining the future of these projects will be whether they fall under the responsibility of Railtrack plc - the company's operational arm, now under administration - or the non-operational Railtrack Group, which is unaffected. A decision on this has yet to be made.

Christian Wolmar, rail expert and author of Broken Rails, believes it is unlikely that anyone at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions thought through the full implications of the intervention. Railtrack is 'in a state of limbo', he said, and any projects needing approval in the immediate future will not be given the goahead. And while transport boss Stephen Byers is suggesting Railtrack could be in administration for six months, Wolmar believes a year is a more realistic estimate.

But despite Railtrack's lack of clarity, the other architects affected are unfazed. Nicholas Grimshaw and Partners, whose tower at Paddington Station is awaiting planning approval, is assuming its project will proceed - although Railtrack is under no legal obligation to continue further. And Chris Bennie of TP Bennett - designer of the London Bridge Station masterplan which is awaiting the outcome of a public inquiry - said he believed that even though Railtrack was under administration, 'the fundamental needs of the railways remain the same'. But he added: 'The DTLR, SRA and Treasury will still have to decide which of the planned major projects it wants and what public funds are to be made available to help to procure them.'

And, as Wolmar pointed out, Railtrack's problems are likely to have much wider implications for the future of PFI. While the government remains committed to its policy of joint public/private finance, it may be forced to reconsider if private companies faced with rising costs think again at becoming involved in these sorts of projects.

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