Britain sells Channel Tunnel rail link to Canadian group

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Britain has sold the right to run the rail line from London to the Channel Tunnel to a Canadian consortium for 2.1 billion pounds (2.4 billion euros, 3.4 billion dollars), the government said on Friday.

"The successful bidder in a sale of the concession to run Britain's first high-speed railway, 'High Speed 1', was announced today by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond as a consortium comprising Borealis Infrastructure and Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan," a statement from the transport ministry said.

The 68-mile (109-kilometre) line links the British capital to the tunnel underneath the English Channel and is used by Eurostar trains heading to and from Paris and Brussels.

The consortium will now run it for the next 30 years.

Hammond said the price "exceeds the highest expectations for the sale and will make a welcome contribution to reducing the deficit". Previous estimates before bids were placed had put the price at about 1.5 billion pounds.

Prime Minister David Cameron has made paying off Britain's deficit, which reached a record 155 billion pounds last year, the priority of his Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government which took office in May.

"This is great news for taxpayers and rail passengers alike. It is a big vote of confidence in UK plc and a big vote of market confidence in the future of high speed rail," Hammond said.

The government announced its plan to sell off the rail link in June as part of a programme of asset sales to raise much-needed public funds.

As well as Eurostar trains, domestic lines also operate on the route which includes stations such as St Pancras International, Stratford -- where the London Olympic Games will be held in 2012 -- and Ashford in Kent.

Borealis is the infrastructure investment arm of the OMERS Worldwide group, one of Canada's biggest pension plans, while the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan is the largest single-profession pension plan in Canada.

© 2010 AFP

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