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Railwatch 070 - December 1996

Rail link waits for take-off

RDS campaigners could soon see one of our pet schemes grow into a major rail network to serve London's airports. The present Thameslink service - which already serves Gatwick and Luton airports - could be extended to include Heathrow and Stansted.

Thameslink became a phenomenal success after RDS identified a disused rail tunnel at Snow Hill which was reopened in 1988 to link rail networks north and south of the Thames.

Now transport analysts say that four trains an hour from Heathrow should run via the North London line on to existing Thameslink territory at West Hampstead - and then through to the rest of the Thameslink network.

The £40 million scheme would allow millions more people to get to Heathrow easily by public transport and airline passengers to transfer conveniently between Heathrow and Gatwick.

Its value in reducing traffic congestion alone has been estimated at nearly £200 million - much less than the cost of implementing it! Its train service would also be commercially viable.

In October Richard Branson's Virgin Group - attracted by the propect of making annual profits of £100 million - said it wanted to run trains from Heathrow by the suggested route into Moorgate. It was ready to buy new trains almost immediately.

But if this scheme went ahead it could prevent Thameslink offering an integrated airport links service. The London Airports Surface Airports Access Study also recommends running Thameslink trains to Stansted airport in Essex by reinstating a chord north of Kentish Town and another just south of Tottenham Hale.

The £28 million scheme would connect Stansted to a large proportion of the national railway network and could help Stansted grow if Heathrow Terminal 5 is not built. The study also points out that connecting Heathrow to Waterloo by various means would have a value of nearly £100 million in reducing traffic congestion but would not make a profit for the rail operator.

The detailed study prepared for the Department of Transport calls on the Government to take an active role in "initial sponsorship" of the airport links even if private operators, Railtrack and the Franchise Director have to actually implement the schemes. Other ideas to boost rail-air services:

  • Luton airport station to be served by Thameslink and Midland Main Line's proposed new fast diesel services
  • A gateway station on the Great Western main line near Stockley Park served by Thames Trains, Cross-Country and Great Western - with a bus connection to Heathrow
  • A gateway station at Feltham serviced by South West Trains - with buses to Heathrow
  • Connex South Central and North London trains to link Gatwick with the West Coast main line, via Clapham Junction and Willesden. This scheme could be implemented immediately if the various parties would agree
  • Stansted to Cambridge and the North. This could also be implemented immediately

An RDS idea to rebuild a Stansted to Braintree rail line was not considered.

Unfortunately when the study was published in September the Department of Transport went out of its way to point out that no Government money is being committed and said it would now be up to the private sector to see if there are any schemes they wish to develop further. He also pointed out that the study "was not Government policy". It should be - especially as the Government has shelved the CrossRail project. The aim of the schemes is to place Heathrow at the heart of the rail network, according to Susan Cunnington-King of BAA.

But it should be remembered, as Tony Bradley of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry told the West Coast Rail 250 conference, New Street station has more passenger throughput than Heathrow.

RDS is also worried that if BAA has control of rail access to Heathrow via the dedicated Paddington link, how committed would it be to a rail scheme from Heathrow to link up with Waterloo and the South West?

We have also asked how the obvious multi-million pound public benefits from rail schemes can be used to implement them.

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