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CTRL speeds to finish

Rob Holden, chief executive of London and Continental Railways, praises the achievements of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link team

For over a decade, it has been an enormous privilege to have been part of High Speed 1 (formerly known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link).

Now, with less than 100 days to go until its opening, that sense of privilege is mixed with great excitement as we look to hit a schedule and balance sheet first presented several years ago.

This is, quite simply, a project of superlatives: the first new major UK railway for over a century; the UK's first section of high-speed rail (to run the UK's fastest trains) and, I would say, one of the most ambit ious projects ever under taken in Europe.

High Speed 1 is arguably the most magnificent engineering feat of the modern era.

Our achievements to date speak for themselves: the longest high-speed rail viaduct in the world now stretches over the river Medway; the largest-diameter tunnels ever bored under London and, of course, the renovation and modernisation of one of the world's grandest stations - the remarkable St Pancras International.

We have also built a state-of-the-art maintenance depot for Eurostar trains at Temple Mills, close to Stratford International. Connected directly to High Speed 1, this depot finally does away with the need for Eurostar trains to journey across miles of the national rail network to access the North Pole depot at Acton, west London.

Such is the complexity of th is project that steer ing it through the final phases to completion has been a highly intricate process. The project brought together in a spirit of partnership the strengths of the worldwide construction industry in design, procurement and project management.

But, throughout the entire project, safety has consistently been the number one item on every agenda. Anyone and everyone working on the High Speed 1 project knows how they are expected to behave and what precautions to take. It's a win-win situation because a focus on making sure the work gets done in the right manner means there's inevitably simultaneous focus on quality of work and productivity. The result has been a safety record better than the industry average.

So, does it all add up to? On the evening of November 13 the last Eurostar train will depart Waterloo station on the traditional network. The following morning, an overnight switch for Eurostar services to St Pancras International will allow the first Eurostar commercial service to glide majestically from the restored splendour of the Barlow trainshed.

For the first time, the centre of London is connected to the rapidly expanding European high-speed network. This train will complete the journey from Paris 20 minutes quicker than the same train the day before. From 2009, high-speed domestic services will start sharing the new line with Eurostar trains, again dramatically reducing journey times. This is the power of the high-speed line; it is changing the geography of the UK and promoting multi-billion pound investment in regeneration around the stations.

St Pancras International, however, is the jewel in the crown of the project. This magnificent building will have its iconic status restored as we seek to redefine the station for the 21st Century. St Pancras International is being painstakingly returned to its original Victorian grandeur, to become not only part of one of the UK's busiest transport hubs, but a truly spectacular destination in its own right.

It gives us all an immense sense of pride that we stand on the brink of successfully delivering this project. To get ourselves to this point is a welcome and powerful testament to a truly remarkable team of people. As well as being a source of inspiration, some of our aim has been to echo a little of the great engineering achievements of the past. In particular, I hope we have done Sir William Barlow, one of the great railway engineers and designer of the original St Pancras station, proud.

Now, 150 years later, that same pioneering spirit lives on. The men and women who have contributed to build High Speed 1 are modern day pioneers. LCR, Union Railways, Rail Link Engineering and the many contractors and support staff have shown admirable dedication. In particular, I pay tribute to those with the foresight to give the go ahead for the railway and who gave all the necessary support that projects of this size and complexity inevitably require.


109 km route of high speed rail track

150 bridges

Two new stations at Ebbsfleet, north Kent, and Stratford, east London

Construct ion 17.5 km of twin-bore tunnels running under London

Planting of over one million trees

Relocat ion of 13 listed buildings