AMBITOUS plans for a new London rail service, linking Essex to the other side of the capital, have taken a step nearer reality.

Crossrail, which would include a new tunnel under London was first proposed in the 1980s but supporters have had difficulty in securing the funding, which is now estimated at £16billion.

However, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has raised hope among the project's supporters by saying the government will provide funding - but only if businesses provide money as well.

Although he did not say how much the government would put in, he said financial services companies in the City would have to make a "significant contribution".

"No government has previously managed to bring the necessary finance together, in the last few months we have worked night and day to achieve this," he said.

Conservative Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, has also pledged support for the project.

At the Tories' party conference in Blackpool he said a Tory government would "get people and goods moving freely on uncongested roads and high speed railways, and yes Crossrail."

Approval for the project could come quickly and it could be included in the government's comprehensive spending review later this month.