11 October 2011

Heathrow - Gatwick Rail Link

 Just after Trans-Trax published its ideas about a proposed Reading - Heathrow link, another idea has been floated; that of a rail link between Heathrow and Gatwick airports. This was firstly mentioned on the BBC  and Daily Mail(including a map proposal) on 8th Oct. followed by Breaking Travel News. Even London Mayor Boris Johnson had his pieces to say to support  the scheme in the Evening Standard (10th Oct.).and Daily Telegraph (11th Oct).

Heathrow - Gatwick Rail link, a possible route
As Trans-Trax has proposed in this last (Reading - Heathrow) post and in other previous ones, it seems that the UK Government is taking on board some of the ideas expressed in this blog.We cannot but be satisfied.

The basic premise is to build a new line from Reading, through Heathrow and Gatwick to Ashford where it would connect to the Channel Tunnel. This idea  is called SHSL, published 24th Feb.2010. It is redundent to explain all the implications as they have been well looked at in the previous posting Reading - Heathrow Rail Connection (6th Oct.2011), amongst others.

The interesting thing is that the idea has been floated, which is the first stage in the process of convincing voters. However, it must be mentioned how the government goes about this because it is not crystal clear.The problem with governments is that they do not tell you the whole truth, usually because they are afraid of upsetting too many voters at the same time - the old addage applies -  divide and rule.

To understand this you have to look back at other policies.Why does the government want a HSR2 spur into Heathrow? To add travel time on its way north? To connect to HSR1 through that bottleneck of inner London? The idea on its own is absurd. The results would never justify the cost. However, if you plan to have direct trains from the airport to other cities then the idea falls into place. Run trains from Heathrow to Manchester and Leeds so the reduction in air traffic releases slots. With the resulting reduction in rail journey times then there would be knock-on effects for traffic to Newcastle and Scotland, with a reduction in demand for air transport. Government thinking is that more slots would be freed up. As a result the need for a third runway disappears thus justifying the decision. Unfortunately, such thinking is extremely simplistic, and as such this blogger considers it short-sighted and erroneous.

The connection Heathrow - Gatwick is part of the same thinking. Provide a fast link between the two airports and you, thus, reduce the need for competing flights from both airports. You also  treat Gatwick as another terminal and so integrate the airport into the workings of Heathrow, and subsequently you are able to use any spare capacity there for long haul slots.

What the Government does not say is that if you continue the rail line the 73 kms. due east across open country you arrive at Ashford to link up with the Channel Tunnel (This will be done eventually if intial reactions are not wholely negative). As a result you would be able to offer direct train services from both Heathrow and Gatwick to Paris, Brussles, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Düsseldorf, Cologne and even Frankfurt.This is the sort of service the Government wishes to emulate which already exists in airports such as Geneva and Zurich.

Gatwick - Ashford rail Link a proposal

How many slots would then be released for other services? The Government would consider very many but the real number would probably not be so many in an ever expanding market.
Take the idea further and connect the the Gatwick - Heathrow link through T4, T1/3 and T5 to the recently mentioned Heathrow - Reading link. Then you have your connections to the West and South Wales(via the GWML), but also to Oxford, Birmingham and destinations northwards.
Pie in the sky? I do not think so. 

It must be mentioned that not everyone is in favour of a Heathrow - Gatwick rail link. Willie Walsh, the chief executive of IAG(parent company of BA), was the quickest off the mark, in the Daily Telegraph (9th & 10th Oct), Reuters(9th Oct.), and Railnews.co.uk(10th Oct.) rejecting the proposal. This was followed by Breaking Travel News (10th Oct.) where the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR UK) in the name of 86 airlines rejected the proposed rail link.

To understand this it should be said that the airlines are concerned about the lack of runway capacity in South East England, especially in the places into which they wish to fly. The rail link, itself, they would accept and even welcome, but certainly not as an excuse to not deliver on a new third runway for Heathrow and/or a new second runway for Gatwick, or any other new runway at Stansted or Luton.  The Government is thinking that the slots released would satisfy mid-term future demand. On the other hand the airlines know that you are making the airport network more attractive so potentiating demand thus annulling the sorted after effects.

The costing of the project is of very high importance because it would obviously fall on the taxpayer while the third runway at Heathrow was to be paid for by its users, the airlines, and not the general taxpayer. However, many projects with a European perspective have been financed in large part by the EU. It all depends what happens to the EU cohesion fund when it is up for renewal in 2013.

The position of this blog is clear. On its own the link is expensive and hard to justify, even though a rail link between the two airports is more than welcome. If fact it would take off the roads 4 coach services per hour in each direction - meaning about 12 coaches in total with what that means in diesel consumption and exhaust fumes. Add that to the savings made on the Reading - Heathrow service (7 coaches) and the savings become considerable. The important thing is to put this into context. A Reading - Heathrow link and a Heathrow - Gatwick link seperately are illogical. A Reading - Heathrow - Gatwick service makes sense. This would connect the two airports but also open up connections from the west and north without funneling more traffic through that bottleneck called London. To extend the line to Ashford is the next logical step, not just for local services to Ashford(with passing points on the way), itself, and on to Margate, but also long-haul services directly through the Channel Tunnel to continental Europe. The possible variations of services are numerous.

NB: If the name proposed for this new rail link is Heathwick, then is the Reading - Heathrow rail link Readrow? Awful and stupid names.

06 October 2011

Reading - Heathrow Rail Connection

The original idea was called Airtrack. This was a BAA promotion(just like Heathrow Express(HE)) of rail connections from Heathrow Terminal 5 (where space has already been reserved for extra rail tracks/platforms) via Staines to Waterloo, Guilford and Reading. This idea TRANS-TRAX analysed on 30th June 2010 in a posting on this blog called Airtrack - is it worthwhile?.

There were some good elements but we thought that the idea was flawed. Certain elements proved to be insurmountable obstacles - such as the extended closure of level crossings on the Staines - Reading section, and the lack of train paths to fit the trains into the heavily scheduled services on the South West network. The result was that BAA cancelled the project in April 20011.

What has been little mentioned is the fact that the whole project was an idea of, and to be financed by BAA (the owners of Heathrow). The expense of running sets of dual system trains (to operate with overhead electrical supply, and then on the South West Train Network with a third rail trackside connection) also proved to be onerous with limited benefit (lack of train paths) and possibilities to increase frequencies. The focus, anyway, was on benefit to BAA, not service to the passengers. So the project died its death.

However, a partial solution is being worked on. On 5th September 2011 an article appeared on the BBC website titled "Hammond Heathrow £500m rail link plan consideration" 
This is being sold as direct trains from Cardiff and Bristol into Heathrow. There will not be that many per day so would not make such a direct connection viable. The article was echoed on 11th September, in a more realistic vein by the Reading Chronicle, titled "Airport rail link hopes run high" Here the focus in the article is on the 4 train per hour shuttle between Reading and Heathrow Terminal 5. This is much more realistic. It would replace the coach shuttle between the two cutting travel time to under 30 minutes. It thus offers a direct connection at Reading from all points west to Heathrow, opening the possibility of direct trains from the West (and South Wales into the airport). The shuttle would also mean that passengers who, at present, go into Paddington to catch the HE back to Heathrow would not have to do so.

The coaches services from Reading drop passengers off at T5, T1 and T3, while on the return leave from the Central Bus Station and then T5 and on to Reading. Each one way trip takes just under an hour. By providing the rail connection then at least seven coaches could be taken out of service, with the resulting savings of diesel oil and elimination of exhaust fumes.  

As the Readng Chronicle article explains the rail link would depart Reading along the GWML towards London. Then it would leave the GWML just east of Langley station, run across country for about 5.5kms. to enter T5 in a tunnel to the two unused platforms which already exist there. Without doubt, by the time the link is built the GWML will be electrified to Reading at least.
Thus, it would only be necessary to extend the overhead electric power supply to T5 on the spur from Langley. The transport units can be the same as the ones used for the Heathrow Express and/or the Crossrail schemes.                                                                                                                                     

The probable route from Langley station (on the GWML) to Heathrow T5

On the other hand the connection Reading  - Heathrow should not be looked at in isolation.

The Reading Rail link will connect into T5 using two platforms which already exist but, as yet, have no takers. The question, therefore, arises about what can be done with this connection. The downside is that there is no further connection to other terminals. Can this be solved? Of course it can.
As we said before the Reading link and the HE link will use the same vehicles and overhead power system, which obviously means the two can run over the same lines. Therefore, the same systems can be used over the same lines as far as they will go. To run the Reading link from T5 to T3/T1 is so possible. To continue it to Paddington (just like the HE) is possible but a non-starter, since it is easier to go direct to Paddington from Reading along the GWML than through the airport.

On the other hand, if the decision were made to extend the Reading link to T3/T1 and then turn south to T4, we would end up with all the terminals connected to the rail system for the subsequent benefit of passengers, and subtracting a substantial number of cars from the roads.  Then, if the thinking were to extend the system the 2.5 kms. to Feltham rail station, we could provide the (old Airtrack idea) vision of a connection to Twickenham, Richmond, Clapham Junction and Waterloo, with all the connections to South West Trains (and others) which this implies.

However, our thoughts do not stop there. We refer you to our article on this blog , called Fast Trax 2 - the case for a Southern High Speed Alternative. This we call  SHSL published here  24th February 2010.

Since then our ideas have not changed - in fact with this news, actually reinforced. To connect T5 to the GWML and subsequently Reading and beyond, opens up all sorts of possibilities. From this conclusion we should not exclude services to Southampton in one direction, but more likely services to Oxford and Birmingham in the other (with all the connections implied there). The expensive and unnecessary HSR2 link from Central London would then be called into question.

We,even, go further and look at the possibilities of connecting the Irish boat services at Fishguard (from Rosslare) to Reading, to Heathrow and onwards. By onwards we see the line extended to Gatwick(thus providing the much sort after rail link to that airport). But why should services stop there? Can they not be extended to Ashford and on  to the Channel Tunnel and Lille? Here we would be talking about passenger and freight traffic which would eliminate from the roads all the lorries going to Ireland through Fishguard (if not other ports as well). This would be a tremendous saving in diesel oil and all the fumes that it implies by taking off the roads a very large number of lorries on a European designated priority route between Ireland, the UK and Continental Europe.

The ideas expressed in the said blog are still valid and worthwhile. It just needs a bit of common sense and political will to set the ball rolling - even if the whole process is done in a step by step approach.