|Heathrow Airtrack (proposed)|
The current Terminal 5 station which would have formed part of Airtrack
|Type||Urban rail / Airport rail link proposal|
|Locale||London, England, UK|
|Termini||Heathrow Terminal 5
|Owner||Heathrow Airport Holdings (railway tracks around Heathrow Airport)
Network Rail (remainder of the network)
|Track gauge||1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)|
Heathrow Airtrack is a proposed railway link in west London. The line, as proposed by BAA, would run from Heathrow Terminal 5 into central London and across the suburbs of southwest London. In October 2011, Wandsworth Council announced a revised plan called Airtrack-Lite. A rival unrelated proposal, Heathrow Southern Railway, was announced in 2017.
The BAA proposal would provide direct rail services from the airport to London Waterloo, Reading and Guildford, and offer an alternative route to the existing rail routes to Heathrow (namely Heathrow Express, Heathrow Connect and the Piccadilly line). The scheme is estimated to cost £673 million. In April 2011, BAA announced that it was not proceeding with the project at the present time, citing the unavailability of government subsidy and other priorities for Heathrow. In 2016 the plans were restated as part of improvements linked to the proposed third runway at Heathrow.
Heathrow Terminal 5 has two safeguarded heavy rail platforms for use by a west-facing connection to the National Rail network, which would be utilised by Airtrack. The original proposal for the AirTrack link included a new station, called Staines High Street, built near the site of the former station of the same name, but that plan was omitted from the revised proposals in the second public consultation, published on 20 October 2008.
A new rolling stock depot on the site of the former marshalling yards at Feltham is included in the proposal.
The principle of a rail connection to Heathrow from the south had been the subject of considerable discussion and study for 50 years. Since 1960, there have been more than 10 studies or proposals that considered how to improve surface access to Heathrow by means of an additional fixed rail link, and in 1984 studies confirmed the viability of the link.
Following a period of public consultation in 1998, BAA submitted plans on 24 July 2009 to the Secretary of State for Transport seeking authorisation under the Transport and Works Act to acquire the necessary land and begin constructing the rail link.
Work had been forecast to begin in 2011, with rail services operating by 2015. On 30 July 2010 the Department of Transport wrote to all parties involved in the public inquiry, informing them that this had been delayed indefinitely. The reason cited was that "the Government has confirmed that its most urgent priority is to tackle the UK's budget deficit and that there will be a spending review in the Autumn. The review may have implications for the proposed funding of the Airtrack Scheme and until the position becomes clearer, we do not consider it appropriate to take matters forward...".
In the event, Airtrack was not mentioned in the spending review and, as a result, in November 2010 BAA announced that the "public inquiry remains deferred".
The AirTrack Forum is a 'group of organisations with a common interest in seeing Airtrack built', formed at the initiative of British Airways, according to its website. It has commissioned consultants to study the economic benefits of the scheme funded by the (now defunct) South East England Regional Assembly. Some groups within the Airtrack Forum do not support the current proposals.
BAA has claimed support for the scheme from Transport for London, the Mayor of London, nine London Boroughs and local borough councils of Runnymede, Reading, Woking, Guildford, Bracknell Forest and Wokingham, as well as by Surrey and Hampshire County Councils. However, this is contradicted by objections made by some of these authorities to the final plans. Surrey County Council, for example, is an official objector to the scheme, as is Wokingham. Additionally, "strong concerns" have been raised by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, including a potential downgrade of the busy Windsor Riverside service and increased rail traffic at level crossings.
It has been reported that Surrey may 'drop its opposition' after BAA offered to fund £11 million of transport improvements and a vote to provisionally drop their opposition was passed by the county's cabinet on 28 September 2010. This decision was due to be finalised by the full council in December 2010 but was deferred. The move was the subject of an 'extraordinary outburst' from Philip Hammond, the local MP, who at the time was Secretary of State for Transport. Hammond criticised the council for 'grabbing a bribe', a payment of £11 million towards mitigating some traffic problems in Egham entirely unconnected to Airtrack and went on to demand a more comprehensive solution, saying 'no solution, no scheme' and urging BAA to 'get back to the drawing board'. BAA had made a significant compromise in offering this payment as it had previously been consistent in arguing that traffic problems caused by Airtrack were not its responsibility, using the fact that Network Rail has no legal obligation to open level crossings at all or to consult on changes.
The economic case considers Airtrack to be a low-cost option as only 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) of new line would be required, mostly within Spelthorne. The remaining new infrastructure would consist of station improvements and associated facilities.
The key elements of construction work would be:
In 2008, the scheme was estimated to cost about £673 million, of which about £150 million was expected to come from an operating surplus and the remainder from a government subsidy.
The passenger services proposed for the Airtrack service are generally to offer a half-hourly service to each destination:
London Waterloo – Heathrow: two trains per hour, stopping at:
An extension of the Heathrow Express service to Staines-upon-Thames would provide an additional 2tph between the airport and Staines-upon-Thames. Journey time from Waterloo to Heathrow would have been approximately 40 minutes.
Journey time from Guildford to Heathrow would be approximately 36 minutes.
Reading – Heathrow (via Egham and Virginia Water) two trains per hour, stopping at:
Journey time from Reading to Heathrow would be approximately 45 minutes.
Most of the construction work would have affected Staines Moor and Stanwell Moor, which include a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and extensive consultations took place in Spelthorne resulting in major modifications of the scheme.
Building a train depot in Feltham is part of the scheme. Residents of Feltham had expressed opposition to this, mainly as the depot may have encroached on a natural conservation area and that the depot may give rise to noise pollution.
In response to these concerns, BAA has published assurances in their consulation literature that the Feltham depot would have been designed to limit noise and light pollution, and with landscape screening.
A concern raised was in relation to level crossings. The proposed Airtrack route would run on lines which have fifteen level crossings, and local campaigners along those routes have claimed more frequent trains would increase waiting times at closed barriers. and detrimentally affect traffic congestion. BAA is investigating the possibility of constructing road bridges or tunnels at these locations.
BAA has stated that eight crossings would have slight impact, with barrier closure times increasing by no more than 13%. Three crossings would have been moderately affected, with increases of between 13% and 25% in the amount of time that the barriers are closed to road traffic. Four crossings would have been "severely" affected, with barrier downtimes increasing by between 25% and 36%. As no independent time and motion study had been conducted, the closure times of level crossings and impact to the surrounding area had yet to be assessed at the time of the project's cancellation.
Airtrack originally stated that new signalling technology would keep level crossing down-times to a manageable level. This has been accepted as a reasonable proposition by the local authority, Runnymede Borough Council, and by the Highways Authority for the area, Surrey County Council.
Immediately after Staines-upon-Thames the westward line goes through the town of Egham. Local campaigners in Egham have stated concerns that Airtrack may increase congestion problems at a level crossing.
Concerns have been raised about the scheme's effect on the town by Egham Chamber of Commerce, Runnymede Council, Richmond Council, and bus operators. The local MP for Runnymede and Weybridge, Philip Hammond, first raised his concerns about lack of alternatives to level crossings in Egham in the House of Commons in 2002. In 2009 Hammond arranged for the Chamber of Commerce to deliver a petition to 10 Downing Street appealing to the then Labour Government, to not allow Airtrack to be built without a tunnel or bridge in Egham. Hammond became Secretary of State for Transport in May 2010.
In a consultation between Surrey County Council and the emergency services, the Fire and Ambulance services expressed concerns about increased level crossing waiting times.
The Airtrack route is planned to pass through the town of Wokingham. As with Egham, there are concerns regarding traffic congestion caused by increased rail traffic on level crossings. Wokingham has five crossings (Easthampstead Road, Waterloo Road, Barkham Road, Station Road and Wellington Road) which would have been affected by the project, and campaigners submitted a petition to the Government.
BAA have said that Wokingham Borough Council is considering the issue as part of its transport strategy. The council have discussed the possibility of building a bridge over the Barkham Road crossing, and have proposed that Wokingham Station would have to be moved closer to Reading in order to accommodate the Airtrack proposal.
In October 2011 Wandsworth Council announced a revised plan called Airtrack-Lite. To address some of the concerns, this proposes that the Waterloo to Windsor service would divide at Staines-upon-Thames, and the service from Weybridge to London (via the Hounslow loop) would be recast as Weybridge to Heathrow and Heathrow to London services.
In March 2013, Wandsworth Council initiated a study into providing a 30-minute rail journey from Clapham Junction to Heathrow.
A variation of Airtrack-Lite is also used by the Windsor Link Railway, with a new link to Terminal 5 from a triangle at Wraysbury, providing both a northwest and a southwest rail link to Heathrow, with a bridge over the M25 avoiding the cost of tunneling associated with Airtrack.
A new rail link proposal was included in the government's 2012 High Level Output Specification for rail. The proposed line would use a west-facing connection near Slough, which would allow through trains to serve the airport from South Wales and Bristol if a business case could be established.
Heathrow area rail services
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