THREE firms are thought to be in line for the first major bite of London Underground's £900 million plan to extend the East London line.
London Underground Limited will choose from Taylor Woodrow, Gleeson and Birse for an advanced works package thought to be worth around £30 million.
The contractors first expressed interest in this slice of work three years ago and only now will now go head-tohead for the pioneering package, which relates to phase one of the route - extending the line north to Dalston and south to Crystal Palace and West Croydon.
The overall scheme is the single biggest transport infrastructure project in mayor Ken Livingstone's five-year plan to overhaul the commuter and travel networks in the capital.
The scheme is due to be completed by June 2010 and features heavily in Britain's bid to host the 2012 Olympics, which will be centred in east London at Stratford.
London Underground remains tight-lipped over the details of the work but Murphy is already carrying out the renewal of the railway drains along the viaduct between Shoreditch and Dalston, partial demolition of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard and laying new roads in the Allen Gardens area of Tower Hamlets.
One of the three will eventually take over from Murphy.
One source said: 'We have been asked to meet the client this week and we are hoping to get more detail about what will be required.We gather there's a good deal of bridge works expected of the successful contractor.'
He added: 'There are no guarantees that there will be more work in the pipeline but a successful performance here can do you no harm at all.This has been a stop-start project, but it's still a big one.'
London Underground is also looking for project managers for the main works contract and has placed a recruitment advertisement in the Official Journal.
A winner for that role is expected next Monday.The tender process for the main works contract will begin this summer.