Airtrack: New Rail Access for London Heathrow Airport

Airtrack: New Rail Access for London Heathrow Airport


M Heffer, BAA Ltd, UK; H Maier, SKM, UK


BAA is seeking powers to develop a new rail connection to Heathrow Airport to link it to London Waterloo station and the suburbs and commuting areas to the south-west of London. This paper outlines some of the challenges faced in the process.


The Heathrow Context

London Heathrow Airport takes a substantial leap in its development with the opening of Terminal 5 in 2008. The new terminal will significantly improve passenger capacity and facilities at the airport, but it makes surface access arrangements more complex.
Rail Access to Heathrow has been improved substantially in the last 30 years.

- London Underground Piccadilly Line was extended to the airport in 1977. It was upgraded to serve Terminal 4 in 1996, and in March 2008 an extension to Terminal 5 opens.
- In 1998, Heathrow Express opened as a dedicated rail link to Central London, with an extension to Terminal 5 opening in March 2008.
- This was supplemented in 2006 by a local service, Heathrow Connect, serving the West London suburban market.

In an unusual step for an airport owner, BAA took responsibility for developing, financing and implementing the Heathrow Express scheme.

BAA is now seeking powers to develop a further rail connection, Airtrack, which will link the airport to the South-West trains network, serving London Waterloo station, the suburbs and commuting areas to the south-west of London. BAA is taking responsibility for the engineering of the scheme and for guiding it through the UK planning system, to obtain powers to construct and operate the railway, acquire the necessary land and associated planning consents.

This paper outlines some of the challenges faced in the process.

Background to Airtrack

As an infrastructure scheme, Airtrack is relatively modest. It involves creating a local connection to the existing railway network. In terms of rail services, the scheme will provide a total of 6 trains per hour at Heathrow Terminal 5, serving London Waterloo, Reading and Guildford and intermediate stations. It therefore significantly expands the range of destinations that can reach Heathrow directly by rail without the need to interchange.

Institutional Challenges

A rail connection to Heathrow Airport from the south has been considered for a long time and a range of stakeholders have undertaken studies of such proposals over the last 40 years, including British Rail, BAA, the UK Department for Transport, the Strategic Rail Authority and the South West London Transport Conference (SWELTRAC), a transport partnership consisting of 12 local authorities, bus and train operators, transport authorities and passenger and business interests.

The scheme has had broad support over the years, but no single body promoting it. In late 2006, BAA therefore announced that it would provide the funding for Heathrow Airport Ltd to promote a Transport and Works Act (TWA) Order, the UK¡¦s planning process for gaining planning permission for transport infrastructure projects.

In developing the scheme, BAA needs to work with a complex interface with local and national government stakeholders as well as key players in the railway industry.

Technical Planning

Significant project development has already been undertaken by a range of stakeholders and the broad feasibility of the scheme is established. BAA have now commissioned engineers to undertake design work of sufficient detail for the TWA process, and environmental consultants to prepare a detailed Environmental Impact Statement.

Demand Forecasting and Business Case Appraisal

As part of the ongoing assessment of airport development proposals at Heathrow, a complex modelling system has been established to facilitate surface access planning. This suite of models consists of -

- A multimodal model capable of forecasting regional (non-airport related) travel demand;
- Airport-specific surface access mode share models for air passengers and airport employees;
- A regional highway routing model; and
- A regional rail network model.

The bulk of the forecasting effort for Airtrack will be concerned with air passengers and airport employees, where bespoke nested logit mode share models are set up, which use detailed demand data based on geographically disaggregated passenger and employee data. These models will also provide passenger and employee benefit calculations as input to the business case appraisal. Additional rail modelling will be required to determine the impacts on non-airport rail passengers. Outputs from the multi-modal demand model and the highway routing model will provide information on highway impacts.

Project Delivery and Funding

Submission of a TWA Order application is expected to be made by spring 2009. It is likely to face a public inquiry by the end of 2009.

One of the main challenges in the project delivery process will be to pull together a funding package, which will consist of a mixture of public funds, developer contributions and contributions from the aviation sector.

If the scheme is approved and funding agreed, construction could start in 2010/11, with scheme opening by 2013/14.


Association for European Transport