In an interview with the newspaper, transport secretary Stephen Byers said the government was committed to the proposed public-private partnership, which will see the Underground's infrastructure handed to a consortia of private contractors and banks. But he said the plan still had to pass two key hurdles - safety and value for money - and that if it failed either, it would not proceed.
Contracts with the preferred bidders for the three 'infracos' - the companies that will take over running the Tube track, tunnels and signalling, with the operation of trains remaining in the private sector - would be finalised within weeks, said Mr Byers. The structure of the Tube partnership was significantly different from that adopted for the privatisation of the overground rail network, he said.
Mr Byers said: 'This is not Railtrack for the Underground. There will be a unified management structure that will have the private sector working for London Underground. We have to be satisfied that it will be safe, that it will be value for money.
Sources close to the talks believe that Mr Byers could hand the Tube - or some parts of it - to mayor Livingstone and his transport commissioner, Bob Kiley. There were reports this weekend that civil servants had be told to prepare 'fall-back' positions.