The rail access options to Heathrow at present are the LU Piccadilly Line, Heathrow Express and Heathrow Connect, all from London, giving a low rail market share of 28%. Additional links are proposed to increase rail market share:
  • Crossrail (due to open 2019), giving connection to HS2 at Old Oak Common
  • Southern Rail Access from Waterloo via Staines
  • Western Rail Link to Great Western Main Line (already in development), with services to Reading.
In fact £5bn of the £17bn cost quoted is in respect of transport links, including a substantial programme of road improvements for M25, M4 and local access. The accent of the report is clearly focussed on environmental mitigation so is absolutely dependent on the new rail links proposed at Heathrow. Railfuture will campaign to ensure these are built.

However it is well known that travellers, particularly those with luggage, are much more likely to use rail if a direct service is available, rather than having to change trains. Currently only 40 stations are directly served, mostly by the Piccadilly line (compared to 120 from Gatwick). The new rail links proposed at Heathrow will increase that to around 100, but the counties outside London and nearest to the airport (eg Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire) will not be directly served, and so their residents will continue to travel to the airport by car. Two further rail improvements are required to address this:
  • reinstatement of the western curve at Staines to enable services from Guildford via Chertsey and the Southern Rail Access

  • additional capacity on the Great Western Main Line between Acton Wells and Airport Junctions to enable direct services from the outer suburban routes to the north of London, avoiding a change via Crossrail, a long journey and change via the Piccadilly line, or the long way round via Reading and East-West Rail.
Access to airports by rail is important elsewhere too:
  • Although Gatwick has not been chosen, it is still considered to be a credible solution which could become the final political choice. Background growth here is high and Brighton Main Line capacity and resilience are a major concern, so Railfuture will continue to campaign for a long term solution such as Thameslink 2.

  • Stansted was not an option for an additional runway, but in the short and medium term this is where the growth will be, as Stansted has spare capacity. This will be particularly important if construction at Heathrow is delayed beyond the quoted 10 years, so a proper upgrade for the Stansted route is required.

  • Regional airports will continue to grow. International experience shows that airports with good rail links are the most successful. Railfuture will continue to campaign for rail links to all airports.

  • Eurostar was not particularly discussed by the Commission, despite a relatively high market share to Paris and Brussels. The case for Heathrow is primarily potential new routes from Asia to London rather than other European cities, and interchanging for domestic routes and European destinations; Eurostar is not seen as particularly relevant in this context, but Railfuture will continue to campaign for better Eurostar services to more destinations.

Airports Commission press release

Airports Commission Final Report (see page 151 for Surface Access Assessment)

Heathrow Airport: Sustainable Transport Plan 2014 - 2019

Railfuture report: Public Transport Links to UK Airports 2012