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Property prices have already shot up near the metro stations that will be completed by 2010.

The Socialist chairman of the Budapest City Assembly's priority developments committee has said travellers on the fourth metro will get a Mercedes, not a Trabant, He was explaining why the first tender in the giant project was not awarded to the cheapest bidder. Csaba Somlyódi said the Bamco consortium, onsisting of French, German, Austrian and Hungarian companies, was offering better technology than the Japanese Taisei Corporation. Taisei had not yet decided at close of press whether it would seek legal redress, but it contested the claim that its offering was less technologically advanced.

It would seem, therefor, that Bamco will build the 7.3km tunnel from Kelenföld to Keleti station. Bamco's management will be rubbing their hands, since they are now well placed to build the stretch from Keleti to Bosnyák tér, a further 3.2km. The only way in which all 14 stations will be ready by 2010 is if work on the second section starts very soon after Baross tér is reached - the construction work is already delayed.

Another sensitive question is whether the work will stay on budget. There are reasons for cocnern. Even though drilling will only start at the end of the summer, work has already started on two stations, at Móricz Zsigmond körtér and Szent Gellért tér. The latter work went 10 per cent over budget, partly because buried pipes turned out not to be where the maps said they would be.

So there will be luxury for 5 per cent of the citizens of Budapest, while transport conditions for the rest of the city continue to deteriorate, according to Veke, a Budapest public transport lobbying group. "Building the fourth metro on its current route is just throwing money away," said Lajos Dorner, vice-president of Veke. A new metro would improve city transport only if travellers were able to board the train before the onset of city congestion, he said. In this respect, neither Etele tér nor Bosnák tér is appropriate. Rather, the line should run to the Budaörs flower market and Újpalota respectively. A proposal by Fidesz to bring this about was voted down in the City Assembly last week, though there is some chance of a political consensus. The other parties are open to extending the route of the metro, but, they say, they would like to see work finally start on the current section.

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