Railwatch

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Railwatch 076 - July 1998

Heathrow Express opens

The new Heathrow Express rail service finally opened to the public last month with the slogan "famous for 15 minutes". It offers rail travellers a 100 mph link to London's Paddington station. After years of campaigning for rail services like this, RDS should have been celebrating. After all, it is expected to take 3,000 cars off the road each day.

But at £10 per single ticket, it means that a family of four will have to pay £60 just for the privilege of getting from one part of London to the airport and back. Of course you then have to add on the cost of getting to Paddington and the air fare! The first class fare is £20 single for the 15-minute 17-mile journey.

Some people believe that just because the service goes from a rail station to an airport, it is integrated transport. Up to a point! The problem with Heathrow Express, as with so many public transport enterprises, began with the funding. Because BAA provided £450 million (most of the money), the service was expected to operate in isolation from the existing rail network and BAA wants to grab most of the financial benefits for its shareholders. But isolated rail services do not thrive. They perform better financially, and as a public service, if they are part of a network.

At least passengers will be able to buy tickets in seven different currencies on board Heathrow Express trains and in advance at 140 ordinary rail stations and BAA is hoping to persuade airlines to offer a rail-flight ticket.

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