The KCRC is considering a plan to axe half the staff working on the Western Corridor Railway project, appeasing legislators with a saving of at least $20 million a month. The cutback, among a number of options aimed at streamlining the West Rail division, would target consultancy firms. Other options include carrying on with the whole team or abandoning the project, both of which are considered unlikely. If the cutbacks scenario was adopted, the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) would drop one group of workers this month and a second just before Christmas, an informed source told the South China Morning Post. It was not known whether deeper cuts would follow. 'This exercise is to seek relief from the pressure of the legislators,' said the source. About 120 people, most of them engineers, would be dropped from the project because technical studies had been scaled down. The only work now being undertaken was refining the rail alignment, for which a full team of engineers was unnecessary. There were originally 20 technical studies to be undertaken at a cost of $750 million. This shrank to nine contracts worth $230 million under pressure from legislators and Beijing. The KCRC had earlier revealed that the hourly rate for its consultants was $1,200 - so engineers working 200 hours a month were each receiving a monthly pay packet of $240,000. There are 267 people attached to the West Rail division but only 13 are KCRC employees. The other 254 are employed by consultancy firms. Because those planned to be taken off the project are employed by consultancy firms, the KCRC needs to give them only a month's notice without compensation. The cutbacks will mainly target the engineers among the 210 consultants employed on a monthly basis by International Bechtel, appointed by the KCRC as Western Corridor Railway project manager. Bechtel dominates senior staff positions of the West Rail division. Slicing the division's complement by half may cut monthly expenses by about $20 million - nearly 50 per cent of the total. Most of the division's operational costs is paid to Bechtel, which received $43 million in August. Bechtel also won the largest share - worth $281.9 million - of consultancy contracts awarded between 1991 and April this year. Contracts awarded without a tender were worth $12.2 million. Legislator Samuel Wong Ping-wai has welcomed the proposal to cut back on the staff. 'As the Government has not formulated a position on the project and the technical studies are scaled down, there is no need to maintain such a large team of engineers,' he said. However, Mr Wong said the project would still be overstaffed if half the engineers remained. He said fewer than 50 engineers should be retained. James Lamble, the senior communications manager employed by Bechtel, is said to be among those to be cut. The KCRC will resume control of the media relations section instead of having the Bechtel consultant handle matters relating to its image. Hill and Knowlton Asia Limited, which handles the KCRC's media relations, recently increased its staff from two to four.