Rail Access to Airports ? How Important is Dedication?

Rail Access to Airports ? How Important is Dedication?


J P Hawthorne, Sinclair Knight Merz, UK


There is growing pressure to redistribute limited capacity on airport rail links. Can an understanding of passenger perception and a pragmatic approach to market segmentation provide services which continue to meet air passenger requirements?


The provision of good quality rail links to airports is recognised as an important factor in encouraging surface access by public rather than private transport. When designing and implementing such links, it is generally accepted that dedication of facilities and services for airport passengers offers the best way to capture those who might not otherwise consider using rail.

However, many airport services have to share station facilities and line capacity with other rail services which are subject to peak commuter flows. Where relatively lightly loaded airport services use capacity which might otherwise be used to relieve pressure on crowded commuter services, there may be calls for redistribution of capacity. If this involves shared use of trains and additional stops, it is generally regarded as detrimental to the quality of the airport link.

The situation may further be complicated if, as is sometimes the case, dedicated airport and standard commuter services are operated by different train companies with different fares and business objectives.

This paper considers whether it is possible to devise practical solutions which offer at least some of the benefits of dedication while meeting requirements for more equitable use of overall capacity.

Examples are mainly taken from emerging experience with current and planned airport rail links in the UK. The future of the Gatwick Express is uncertain following publication of the Route Utilisation Study for the Brighton Main Line, and provision of a more frequent peak hour service to Stansted is likely to be dependant on closer integration with commuter services. The pattern of heavy rail services to Heathrow will change with the introduction of Heathrow Connect and plans for Crossrail. It is anticipated that a number of decisions regarding the future of these services will be taken during the first half of 2005, and that it will be possible to incorporate comment on these in the paper as submitted and the presentation in October.

The paper draws on research into passenger preferences currently being undertaken for and on behalf of BAA, as part of a wider study of surface access modes. However, the analysis is also based on practical knowledge of rail operation and a pragmatic approach to market segmentation in a rail service context. In particular it seeks to address the issues of passenger perception and whether it is possible to design service patterns which meet air passenger requirements while offering more equitable use of scarce capacity.


Association for European Transport