Luton hits the bullseye with dart lift off

Is there a national strategy for railway-airport connectivity? You only need to look back to September 2007, when the Scottish Government announced that it had scrapped Edinburgh Rail Airport Link (ERAL), to gain a telling insight. 

Originally planned to open in 2011, it would have added 8.75 miles of track between the Fife Circle and Edinburgh-Glasgow routes, including a tunnel beneath the main runway. 

By way of compromise, Edinburgh Gateway station was opened on the Fife line at Gogar, with a connecting tram journey of seven minutes. Not quite the £375 million, inter-city, point-to-point scheme originally envisaged, and with nothing to show for the £30m invested in the failed development of ERAL. 

In Middlesex, there is a similar tale of unfulfilled promise at Britain’s busiest airport. The 4.25-mile Heathrow Western Rail Link (WRL), proposed by the Department for Transport in 2012, targeted faster journey times for passengers from the South West, the South Coast, Wales and the West Midlands, by avoiding the need to travel further towards (or into) central London first. 

Branching off the Great Western Main Line between Langley and Iver, scoped plans show a three-mile tunnel under Richlings Park and Colnbrook before joining existing Network Rail station infrastructure east of Terminal 5. 

But by January 2021, NR had put WRL into a “controlled pause”, amid objections to the construction of a third runway and financial shortfalls (namely from the airport and airlines) triggered by the post-COVID travel slump. Around £47m had been invested before the £900m scheme was shelved, although an All-Party Parliamentary Group is currently lobbying for its reinstatement. 

Read this feature in full in RAIL issue 989 here

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