Pamela Conover, Cunard Line's president and COO, will make history today when she presses the button to start the cutting of the first steel for Queen Mary 2 - the largest, longest, widest, tallest and most expensive passenger ship ever. Queen Mary 2, the first liner to be built in over three decades, will enter service in January 2004 and will be the fastest passenger ship built since QE2 entered service in 1969. Constructed by Chantiers de l'Atlantique in Saint Nazaire, France, birthplace of such famous liners as Normandie, France (now Norway) and Ile de France, the 150,000-ton QM2 is destined to become the benchmark by which all other passenger ships will be judged. According to Conover, "I am absolutely delighted to officially initiate the construction of the successor to such great transatlantic liners as Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and QE2. This begins a new era in the history of Cunard." For the last six decades, there has always been a Cunard "Queen" on the sea. QM2 will be the heir to their grandeur and elegance and at the same time the greatest luxury liner of the new century. The ship will feature classic Cunard hallmarks such as sweeping staircases, expansive promenades, stylish restaurants and gracious public rooms of an imposing scale. The size of the vessel has enabled Cunard to create a variety of passenger spaces - from a majestic, three-story dining room to intimate bars and lounges to the first sea-going planetarium. With a passenger capacity of 2,620 (lower berths), Queen Mary 2 will have a space ratio per passenger of 57.25, making it among the roomiest of the world's larger passenger ships. Spacious staterooms, nearly three quarters of which will have their own private balcony, will offer a level of luxury unprecedented at sea. Technologically, the vessel will feature the latest innovations - mainly a powerplant that include two gas turbines and four diesel engines. More than two-thirds of this energy will be used to power a state-of-the-art Mermaid Pod Propulsion System, comprised of two fixed and two azimuthing pod units. The first four-pod installation to date, the powerful new system will provide a speed of nearly 30 knots with low noise and vibration levels and maximum maneuverability.