BOMBELA, the Gautrain concessionaire, said yesterday it had put forward a cheaper option which would see the first phase of the rail link completed in time for next year's Soccer World Cup.

A stalemate developed over funding as the state was unwilling to pay more for a project that had already caused controversy over the expense. The government had little bargaining power as the contract had not stipulated that it should be completed in time for the World Cup , despite it being touted as a project which would enhance readiness for the event.

Bombela had asked for R1,3bn to complete the link between Sandton and OR Tambo International Airport by May 27 , ahead of the contractually agreed October deadline, but Gauteng turned this down, saying it was too expensive.

It is not yet clear what cost is attached to yesterday's proposal. Bombela CEO Jerome Govender would say only it was "affordable".

Barbara Jensen, spokeswoman for the Gautrain Management Agency, said the agency was still working through the proposal but so far the indications were that it came at no cost and with no conditions.

If confirmed, this would mean Bombela has agreed to waive R1,3bn to complete the project ahead of deadline.

Gauteng government spokesman Thabo Masebe said the government would not spend additional money to complete the project ahead of time as it was never intended as a World Cup project.

"There shouldn't be pressure to meet the deadline, but it would be a bonus if it was finished by kickoff," he said.

An insider said Bombela wanted to be able to say it had worked on a World Cup-related project in order to enhance its own credibility when bidding for future work.

Gauteng still has to give the go- ahead for the project to be completed within an earlier time frame. Govender said the latest proposal was submitted earlier this week and he wanted a decision soon.

Govender said the modifications consisted of back-office related requirements, while maintaining passenger experience.

He said safety and security would not be compromised, so the requirements of the Railway Safety Regulator would still be met.

newmarchj@bdfm.co.za