The Anonymous Widower

Is A Rail War Starting To London’s Airports?

The following sections sum up the rail services to the various London airports.

London City Airport

London City Airport may only be small, but some people use it a lot. I never have, but that’s not for dint of trying. It’s just that if I include all the factors, by which I choose a flight, it hasn’t come out top yet!

London City Airport is only on the Docklands Light Railway, but when Crossrail is open and Bank station has been fully upgraded in 2021, it will be a relatively easy airport through which to travel.

Crossrail passes very close to the Airport and passive provision has been made for a Silvertown station that could be connected to the Airport. At present, the Docklands Light Railway provides enough capacity.

Eurostar

Eurostar is the cuckoo in the nest and should be included, as it will offer rail services to a couple of European Airports.

By the early 2020s, there will be new direct or single-change services to France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland.

I also suspect that one of the first extensions of Crossrail will serve Ebbsfleet International station, so it will give a lot more passengers easy access to European services.

Gatwick Airport

This year the rail links to Gatwick Airport are getting a major upgrade.

And increasingly, as the next few years roll on, various developments will or could happen.

  • Thameslink and particularly London Bridge station will have greater capacity.
  • Thameslink will add many direct trains to new destinations like Cambridge, Stevenage and Peterborough.
  • Thameslink and other developments, will mean that nearly all stations East of the Midland Main Line, will have access to Gatwick Airport through with only a single change at a convenient interchange like Bedford, Cambridge, Farringdon, Finsbury Park, Luton, Peterborough or Stevenage.
  • The dreadful links to the Thameslink platforms at St. Pancras, from some other lines at Kings Cross and St. Pancras will be improved.
  • An IPEMU variant of the Class 387 Gatwick Express could easily reach Reading on an hourly-basis, to give single-change access between Gatwick Airport and Wales and the West.
  • The East Coastway and West Coastway routes could be extended to Ashford and Bournemouth respectively, improved with more and faster trains and a better interchange to Gatwick services at Brighton.

But I believe that what would transform train services to Gatwick, is when the whole of the area from Weymouth and Reading in the west to Ramsgate in the East becomes part of London’s Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing area.

Heathrow Airport

Heathrow Airport will have to wait until December 2019 before it gets any more capacity to Central London, in the shape of Crossrail.

Until then, it will have to make do with the current services.

  • The very crowded and slow Piccadilly Line.
  • The infrequent Heathrow Connect.
  • The overpriced and much unloved Heathrow Express.

But there are serious problems.

  • The rail lines into the airport are designed to maximise revenue for Heathrow, rather than the convenience of passengers.
  • Crossrail hasn’t been designed to serve Terminal 5 directly. How daft is that?
  • Links to the West are atrocious and rely on going into London and out again. Gatwick has better links to Reading!
  • As I wrote in Heathrow Express And Crossrail, Heathrow and TfL are still arguing about access for Crossrail into Heathrow.
  • Boris has indicated that Freedom Passes will be allowed on Crossrail to Heathrow.
  • Heathrow Express will be killed by Crossrail, if Heathrow allows it to serve the airport.
  • Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports will become part of London’s Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing area. Will Heathrow?
  • Improved rail links and services at Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports will make these airports more attractive for a lot of passengers than Heathrow.

On top of all this, Heathrow needs Crossrail to give the Airport connectivity to large parts of the South East, the West Coast Main Line and HS2.

I think all candidates for the next London Mayor, will be playing the anti-Heathrow card frequently and with immense relish.

In the end Heathrow will have to accept the following.

  • The closure of Heathrow Express.
  • Full access of Crossrail directly to all terminals, at an agreed price  with TfL.
  • Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing.
  • A rail link from the West, under probably Network Rail, Great Western and TfL control.

If they don’t like it, then I’m sure Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports will take up the slack.

Luton Airport

Luton Airport is in some ways the joker in the pack, but also it has plans to expand, as is reported in this article in the Daily Mail, entitled Luton Airport reveals plans for direct rail line that would cut train journey from central London to just 20 minutes.

In Will Bombardier Develop The Ultimate Airport Train, I discussed Luton Airport in detail and came to the conclusion that if Bombardier Class 387/2 trains as used on the Gatwick Express were fitted with an IPEMU capability, they could easily use terminal platforms without electrification in a tunnel under the Airport.

Whether they will or not, I don’t know, but there is scope for very affordable solutions to providing a fast rail link into Central London.

Luton Airport is closer than Gatwick is to Central London, so I would expect that Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing, would not be a problem.

Southend Airport

Southend Airport is the newest of London’s airports. I know it well from my days as a pilot and occasionally use it on trips to the Netherlands on easyJet.

Operationally for airlines, Southend Airport’s location, close to the Essex Coast is ideal, as it is away from other airports and pilots can get planes in to and out of the airport without too much delay. Also, flights coming in from the East have an uncluttered approach, over the sea and marshland. I once came in to the airport on a flight from  Schipol and was on the train from Southend Airport station to Central London, within an hour of boarding the flight in The Netherlands.

I can understand why the Roskill Commission recommended that London’s new airport should be built on Maplin Sands.

This airline-friendly location could drive growth at the airport, especially if the airport keeps its reputation for fast passenger handling.

The Airport talks about handling two million passengers by 2020 and I can’t feel that this is unreasonable.

What could help passenger growth is that there is plenty of scope for making rail trips to Southend Airport easier, especially for Southend’s typical traveller with just hand-baggage and perhaps a wheeled case.

At present Southend Airport and Southend Victoria have three services to and from Liverpool Street per hour, which stop at all stations between Shenfield and Southend Victoria and then just Stratford and Liverpool Street. This is a recent upgrade, as Wikipedia says one train stops at all stations.

Journey times are as follows.

  • Liverpool Street – 64 minutes – Just four minutes longer than Stansted.
  • Stratford – 57 minutes
  • Shenfield – 27 minutes

Capacity isn’t a problem as all stations can take eight-car trains.

The airport station is very close to the terminal and is fully step-free. Incoming passengers from the London direction, don’t even have to cross the railway to get to the terminal.

Crossrail and the new East Anglia franchise will certainly have effects, some of which have already happened.

  • Between Shenfield and London there will be at least eight high-capacity Crossrail trains per hour.
  • Will Crossrail run on a twenty-four hour basis?
  • Shenfield will have Oyster and contactless card ticketing. Will this go all the way to Southend Victoria?
  • Shenfield will be Freedom Pass territory.
  • Will Norwich-in-Ninety improvements mean that times between Shenfield and London are reduced?
  • Will more of the longer distance services to East Anglia, stop at Shenfield for interchange with Crossrail?

I suspect that the answer to the two last questions, will be yes. This improved connectivity and reduced journey time, would mean that a lot of places in East London, Essex and East Suffolk, would be just one change at Shenfield away from Southend Airport.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see some upmarket trains between Southend Victoria and Liverpool Street, with a four trains per hour frequency. Partly, this will be driven by the airport, but also by the competition for passengers between the two companies running services to Southend.

Stansted Airport

Stansted Airport is currently served by the adequate but slow Stansted Express.

Stansted Airport is owned and operated by the ambitious Manchester Airports Group and I can’t see them sitting idly by, whilst Gatwick and Luton expand into their market. After all, they have resources that other airports in the South East lack; space and spare capacity on the current runway.

The rail links need improvement and these will or could happen in the next few years.

  • The West Anglia Main Line will be developed and given four tracks between at least Broxbourne and Lea Bridge stations, with higher speed limits.
  • There will be a higher frequency for Stansted Express trains into Liverpool Street.
  • Stansted Express will serve Stratford several times an hour.
  • Stansted Airport station will gain a second tunnel and platform.
  • There will be an improved service between Stansted and Cambridge.
  • Stansted Airport will become part of London’s Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing area.

The service between Cambridge and Stansted is a truly inadequate, single train per hour to and from Birmingham via Peterborough and Leicester.

I believe that when the new East Anglian franchise is awarded, the route north from Stansted will see the greatest improvement. Note that Thameslink will have four trains per hour to Cambridge going through London of which two will go all the way to Gatwick Airport and Brighton.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see two half-hourly services added to the airport.

  • Stansted Airport to Peterborough via Cambridge, Cambridge North and Ely.
  • Stansted Airport to Norwich via Cambridge, Cambridge North and Ely.

Even if the current Birmingham service was cut back, this would still give four trains per hour between Stansted Airport and one of its most important catchment areas.

Note how Cambridge North station, which serves the North of the City and the Cambridge Science Park, will be given good rail links.

In Better East-West Train Services Across Suffolk, I wrote about a radical idea of Network Rail to create a much improved service between Peterborough and Ipswich, based on a rebuilt Newmarket station.

But who knows, what will actually happen? I don’t!

But whatever happens to the North of Stansted Airport, the rail links to the airport will be much improved by 2020 or so.

Road Improvements

Road improvements will not be numerous, but one new road will effect the use of airports.

If a new Lower Thames Crossing is built, it could make driving to Gatwick, Stansted and Southend Airports easier and some travellers will shun Heathrow.

On the other hand, if it wasn’t built, it might favour other airports.

Conclusion

All of London’s six airports, except probably London City will be seeing large investments in rail infrastructure, stations and trains in the near future.

Heathrow won’t like it, but I think the political consequences for the major parties of a new runway at Heathrow will make it unlikely that Heathrow gets another runway.

But given the rail infrastructure, I suspect that the other airports will take up the increased traffic for several years.

Gatwick, Luton and Stanstead will get very much improved services and I think Southend could become a Luton in the East.

As passengers will get increasingly savvy as to the routes they use, it will be very difficult to predict how the transport pattern to London’s Airports, will look say in 2025.

I’ll finish by listing some ideas I’ve read over the years.

There’ll be others and some might even be built.

January 9, 2016 - Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. There’s two more London airports I’d be interested in hearing your views about. One is London Southend Airport (53 min to the city). And the other is post HS2 Birmingham airport (~40 min to Euston?)

    Comment by Bob | January 11, 2016 | Reply

  2. I caled the first one Southend, as I learned to fly there, but interested to see you suggest Birmingham./ I thought about ading that!

    Comment by AnonW | January 11, 2016 | Reply

  3. I’m sorry, I don’t know how but I managed to skip Southend and get straight to Stansted.

    Comment by Bob | January 11, 2016 | Reply


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