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Balfour/Amec to take flagship project as rail link prepares to award deals worth £550 million Xmas cheer for tunnel winners

CONTRACTORS are expecting a £550 million Christmas present this week with preferred bidders finally in place for four tunnelling deals on the £3 billion Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

London & Continental Railways subsidiary Union Railways is unwilling to commit itself to a precise award date. But sources close to the scheme are confident that preferred bidders have now been chosen.

The main prize, the £300 million contract 230, is expected to go to a Balfour Beatty/Amec joint venture. The project includes the massive Stratford station box and includes 12 km of twin bored tunnels.

A consortium of Nuttall/Wayss & Freytag/Kier is expected to be Union Railways' favourite for the

£100 million Contract 250, known as London Tunnels East.

The group is also one of two locking horns for a second £100 million deal. But Contract 320, the Thames Tunnel, looks set to go to its arch rival Hochtief.

The last bored tunnel deal is Contract 210, London Tunnels West, valued at £60 million.

Insiders say the contest is a close one to call but expect Tracklink (Mowlem/Holzmann/Besix) to come in ahead of Eurolink (Miller/Dumez GTM/Monierbau).

It is also possible that a fifth tunnelling deal will have a preferred bidder on board by Christmas.

Taylor Woodrow is tipped for the £60 million North Downs Tunnel package (Contract 410).

But celebrations could be tempered by tough contract conditions on the four bored tunnelling jobs.

One contractor said: 'It is a very onerous contract that requires the contractor to perform. It still has a target price but is heading towards a fixed-price lump-sum bid for a four-year job. The banks and financial advisers are driving the whole thing and they need an outturn cost.'

Others think that the new deals are moving away from the spirit of the new Engineering and Construction Contract, which was recommended by Sir Michael Latham to reduce disputes.

Another contractor said: 'The client wants to quantify some of the risk, one of which is ground conditions, so we were asked to price an amended clause.

'That throws right out of the window the partnering