Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eurotunnel And Dartford Link Scramble Begins In Transport Sell Off

Speculation Rife as Firms Check Out Government Asset Sale
Shipping News Feature

UK – The Government announcement that it would look to a fire sale of the country’s state owned assets to recoup in part the billions lost in the latest economic collapse, has started speculation running rife as companies jockey for position to acquire what they see as potential bargains, particularly in the transport sector.

Eurotunnel have declared their intent to own the much vaunted high speed link between Britain and France which apparently is going up for sale. Despite the usual vaguely announced policy British voters have grown weary of, the commercial sector is sniffing out the details in anticipation of possible bargains of the type made available when Gordon Brown sold off huge quantities of the gold reserves which latterly proved to be a fraction of their value as investments.

Described by its owners as “the world’s busiest rail line” Eurotunnel’s owners seem confident they will receive preferred bidders status as the line is an extension of their existing facilities. Newspaper speculation puts the price of the line at £3 to £4 billion yet the cost was nearer £6 billion when it commenced operations in 2007. As the largest single shareholder of Eurotunnel is Goldman Sachs eyes in the City will be watching closely.

Yet again in Kent the Dartford Tunnel – Queen Elizabeth II Bridge will itself be the source of controversy once again. Local residents paid substantially over a long period, the first tunnel opened in 1963, and were often told that the crossing would be toll free shortly. Since then it has been a cash machine as the only fee paying bottleneck on the M25 motorway. It had been hoped that tolls would be dropped and Handy Shipping Guide has recently led calls for an investigation into making transit free for freight vehicles. Only last week Transport Minister Sadiq Khan said the Government was considering scrapping tolls at the crossing point. This week they’re going to sell it!

The present system of twin tunnels Northbound and suspension bridge Southbound were paid for by Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and it had been an accepted fact that the tolls had paid in full for construction by 2002. New traffic laws were introduced in 2000 to enable the Government to charge for road use and the latest figures show over 53 million paying vehicles transit the Thames here annually. How any Government has the right to sell off such assets, especially when they have treated it as a cash cow against the public’s wishes, is beyond the wit of most voters.