Heathrow southern rail link concept takes flight again
It has been on the taxiway more than once, but now there’s a renewed pushback for a rail link from the south of London to Heathrow Airport. The capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has thrown his weight behind a southern railway link plan, signalling a significant step forward for the potentially transformative project. The proposal aims to bolster connectivity between Heathrow Airport, South West London, Surrey, Berkshire, and Hampshire, promising improved accessibility for passengers and a reduction in road network congestion.
Moves to reactivate the plan for a new railway link to Heathrow have been launched on the back of a new wave of efforts to foster a more sustainable transportation system. Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the transport minister in The Lords, the upper house of the UK parliament, has previously expressed the government’s support for a southern access to Heathrow. Earlier this year, the peer highlighted the ambition for private sector funding and delivery of the project. That would follow the model of the existing Heathrow Express railway, which approaches from the north, and was built by the British Airports Authority.
Factors coming together have increased prospects
Early support for a new Heathrow rail link has come from the railway industry. Ryan Anderson, London and South chair of the Railway Industry Association, which represents the supply chain in the UK, applauded the growing cross-party support for a southern access to Heathrow scheme. Anderson emphasised the project’s potential to enhance the passenger experience, particularly for those commuting between Heathrow and the surrounding regions. He stressed the scheme’s role in reducing carbon emissions by encouraging rail travel to the airport.
The backing of such initiatives underscores a commitment to expanding and enhancing the railway network, a sentiment shared by rail businesses across the UK. London Mayor Sadiq Khan gave the scheme wings with a statement in a recent mayoral meeting. “I welcome the useful role that a Southern Rail Link to Heathrow could play in supporting a shift to sustainable modes [of travel], while transforming access to Heathrow Airport for passengers and staff from South London, Surrey and Hampshire”, he said. “I am aware that a number of factors coming together in recent months have increased the prospects of a scheme moving forward.”
Previous schemes have failed
Heathrow does not lack for rail links already. the Underground, the dedicated Heathrow Express, and most recently the Elizabeth Line all reach the terminals of the UK’s busiest airport. Yet it is that popularity that has prompted demand for even more diverse rail connections, particularly for traffic generated from the south side of the airport, where many affluent communities are served. The Southern Rail Link scheme envisions the installation of a new track from existing Terminal 5 station at Heathrow, extending to the existing South Western Railway network, where it would merge with the existing commuter lines at Staines. From there, trains would traverse routes through the affluent London suburbs of Twickenham and Richmond, or alternatively via Hounslow and Brentford, eventually reaching Clapham Junction and terminate at London Waterloo.
Transport Minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton reiterated the UK government’s dedication to enhancing rail access to Heathrow Airport. She emphasised the ambition for the Southern Access to Heathrow scheme to be privately funded and delivered, ensuring significant benefits without requiring government funding.
Proposed to be financed privately, the project holds the promise of facilitating smoother access to Heathrow Airport for millions of travellers and employees in the southern regions of London and its surrounding areas. The complexity of the network, and the topography are still issues to be resolved. Previous schemes have failed to achieve liftoff on account of an excessive number of level crossings (which would require to shut their barriers to road traffic for extended periods) and the already intensive nature of rail traffic over the existing network. However, better funded proposals, allowing for rail flyovers, and timetable remodelling could make the difference this time. Wheels up on the prospect of a Southern Rail Link to Heathrow is becoming increasingly close to gaining rail traffic control clearance.