The Anonymous Widower

Why I Like The Heathrow Southern Railway Proposal

Rail Projects

For nearly twenty years I spent a lot of time talking to project managers and reading about the implementation of large projects and systems.

It has led me to various conclusions about large projects and what makes some succeed and others fail.

If you look at rail projects over the last few years, you get some very good examples of projects and some very bad ones too!

Look at how the following factors affect the outcome.


In my view, size can be discounted, as it doesn’t seem to affect the outcome. There’s been good and bad projects of all sizes.

I think it’s just as likely to get a severe problem on a small project as a large one.


There has been the occasional station project delivered late, but in general stations have been on time and mostly on budget.

Some like Canary Wharf, Kings Cross, Manchester Victoria, Reading and St. Pancras aren’t small and a few existing ones have been rebuilt around a working station.

The project management has been good, but could it also be that building a station, with the exception of the tracks, is not much different to constructing any other complicated hi-tech modern building, like an office block, university building or a hospital?


In all the tunnels built in London over the last fifty years, there has only been a couple of problems with the actual tunnels during construction and since.

None were serious!

I think until proven otherwise, we seem to have tunneling under control.

Tracks, Chords, Bridges and Dive-Unders

Over the last few years, several major bottlenecks have been removed at places like Acton, Hitchin, Ipswich, Jane Croft, Norton Bridge and other places by creating lengths of new railway. Sometimes, they have even been electrified.

Network Rail and their contractors seem to have improved dramatically, since the dark days of Hatfield.

I’ve Started So I’ll Finish

I believe that the best way to give a project problems, is to get everybody all geared up to start work, only for management or politicians to have second thoughts.

Give The Public Bread And Circuses

We can’t rate Crossrail yet, but Thameslink has not been a very happy project.

A lot of Thameslink’s problems have been magnified by the way they have treated the public.

Crossrail on the other hand has been open, as to what is happening and hasn’t been slow to use things like archaeology to their advantage.

Large Projects Should Be A String Of Smaller Ones

In my view large projects should be a string of smaller projects, that can be done independently.

If you look at Crossrail, the largest project is the creation of the tunnels through London, which can be built without affecting the existing railway. When they are virtually complete, then the tracks are changed to connect the new and old railway.

In some ways it’s a bit like building a housing estate on a greenfield site, where you put in the roads and services first and then build all the houses.

With Crossrail, very few Londoners or travellers will have had their daily lives disrupted.

The smaller, but still large projects are now being built along the tunnels.

Crossrail has been well-designed around  a project plan that allowed it to be built.

Thameslink on the other hand, is several big projects, all of which have the ability to cause major disruption.

  • The creation of two new tracks from London Bridge to Charing Cross.
  • The total rebuilding of London Bridge station.
  • The Bermondsey dive-under to untangle the tracks.
  • The project is also complicated by the introduction of the new Class 700 trains.

As these projects are all being done at the same time, it is a recipe for chaos and disruption.

Thameslink is very delayed from its original planned finish date and it has been started and stopped more times than a 73 bus on Oxford Street.


Electrification is the fox in the chicken coop, especially when it is being added to existing lines.

Look at these schemes.

  • Great Western Electrification
  • North Western Electrification
  • Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Program

You could even include the Gospel Oak to Barking Line Electrification, where things don’t seem to be going very fast on a smaller scheme.

Is it we’re just not any good at it, or is it that electrifying old infrastructure, with all the problems that brings, a very difficult job.

The Heathrow Southern Railway

It is outlined on this web site, which I suspect will become more informative. If you want to know more, buy the December 2016 Edition of Modern Railways.

This Google Map shows Heathrow Airport and the area to the South and South-West.

South And South-West Of Heathrow Airport

South And South-West Of Heathrow Airport

Note the A30 road going diagonally across the map South of the Airport.

South of this road is a row of three stations; Staines, Ashford and Feltham, which are all on the Waterloo to Reading Line. To the West of Stains, the Staines to Windsor and Eton Line branches away to the North via Wraysbury.

The proposal for the Heathrow Southern Railway envisages.

  • A short tunnel into the existing Heathrow Terminal 5 station, which was designed to accept a line from the West
  • A rail link alongside the M25 to a junction on the Staines to Windsor and Eton Line just West of the M25.
  • A chord at the junction of the Staines to Windsor and Eton Line and the Reading to Waterloo Line to allow trains to go between the Airport and Reading.
  • The rail link alongside the M25 would continue South and connect the Airport to Chertsey station on the Chertsey Branch Line. This would allow trains to run between the Airport and Woking.

This Google Map shows where the rail link would go between Terminal 5 and Staines.

Terminal 5 To Staines

Terminal 5 To Staines

Staines is the station at the South of the map with Wraysbury at the West. \they are joined by the Staines and Windsor and Eton Line, will will have a connection to the Airport.

This Google Map shows Stainesstation and the rail lines in detail.


The line to the North West goes to Windsor, whilst the one to the West goes to Reading.  The line to the East goes to Waterloo via Feltham, Twickenham and Clapham Junction.

It might be tight to create a chord between the Windsor and Reading Lines, but Heathrow Southern Railway believe there is room for a bay platform at Staines station. They also propose, that Staines could be another Crossrail destination.

This Google Map shows the route to connect the rail link to Chertsey station.

Chertsey Station And The M25

Chertsey Station And The M25

Chertsey station is in the South-East corner of the map, with Thorpe Park Resort in the North East corner.

The junction between the rail link from Terminal 5 and the Chertsey Branch, would probably be close to the motorway.

So why do I like this proposal?

The main work needed for the core of the railway is as follows.

  • Create a rail tunnel into the existing station at Heathrow Terminal 5.
  • Build a railway alongside the M25 to connect to existing rail lines to Waterloo, Stains and Woking.
  • Update the railways and stations under Heathrow to allow trains to go from Old Oak Common through the Airport and out the other side.

Once the core is complete, a succession of smaller projects would connect the railway to longer distance services at Basingstoke, Clapham Junction, Old Oak Common, Reading and Waterloo stations.

There is a lot to like about the concept.


These points apply to the construction of the rail link.

  • Much of the difficult construction work is probably inside the fence at Heathrow, creating the connection to Terminal 5 station.
  • The problems of constructing on this route alongside the motorways, are probably well-known.
  • The M25 could even be put in a tunnel, with the railway on top.
  • The map in Modern Railways shows no tunnels except for the one to Terminal 5 and just three rail bridges.
  • I doubt there would be much demolition of properties.
  • Land take inside built-up areas would be minimal, with junctions outside of the towns and villages.

I feel that with good project management the railway could be built without disrupting existing rail services or road  traffic.


The route would be electrified with the following points applying.

  • Heathrow Terminal 5 station is electrified at 25 KVAC overhead.
  • Most of the lines South-West of Heathrow are electrified using 750 VDC third-rail.
  • Modern trains like Crossrail’s Class 345 trains and Thameslink’s Class 700 trains can handle both systems.
  • There is no electrification of existing railways.
  • Electrification of any new railway could use third-rail, to be less visually intrusive.

I doubt there will be any problems with electrification.


The new link provides excellent connectivity to places like Basingstoke, Clapham Junction, Guildford, Paddington, Reading, Richmond, Waterloo, Windsor and Woking.

It also has excellent links to these services.

  • Crossrail at Heathrow, Old Oak Common and Paddington.
  • South Western Railway at Guildford, Waterloo and Woking.
  • Chiltern and HS2 at Old Oak Common.
  • Great Western Railway at Paddington and Reading.

The Heathrow Southern Railway is so much more than a link into Heathrow from the South and West.

South Western Railway

The new franchise for London and the South-West would appear to be ambitious and it has already decided to change its rather assorted suburban trains for a new fleet of Class 701 trains.

These new trains are from the same Aventra family as Crossrail’s Class 345 trains.

South Western Railway also has a common part-owner with Great Western Railway, which must mean that co-operation between the two operators is more likely, than a turf war about who runs services into Heathrow.

In some ways though, one of the biggest strengths of the Heathrow Southern Railway, is that it could take the pressure of the South West Main Line and allow some services to use Paddington instead of Waterloo as a terminus.

Heathrow’s Plans

Heathrow may get a third runway, but their plans do envisage a complete rebuilding of the airport into two main terminals; East and West, which would be served by all trains.

Whatever they do, one of Heathrow’s biggest problems is the pollution caused by the road traffic servicing the airport.

A comprehensive rail network stretching East and West of the airport, must surely help in reducing this pollution, by bringing more passengers, works and freight into the airport on electric trains.


Because of the possible returns on capital, I suspect that it would be very easy to finance privately.


It is definitely one of those projects, where by creating something a bit out of the ordinary, leads to lots of other worthwhile things.



November 24, 2016 - Posted by | Travel | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] the project was announced in September 2016, I wrote Why I Like The Heathrow Southern Railway Proposal. As things have changed since, I have updated that report and I think I’m getting to like the […]

    Pingback by AECOM Invests In Heathrow Southern Railway Link « The Anonymous Widower | September 25, 2017 | Reply

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