Old Oak Common is announced by the Government as the major London interchange for High Speed 2 (HS2), which is planned to complete in 2026.
The present, largely disused sidings at Old Oak Common, north of Wormwood Scrubs and close to Willesden Junction will provide the Interchange between the new HS2 line, Crossrail and the Heathrow Express. This will be the key link between Heathrow and the North, until and if phase 2 of the planned high speed network is built, which would also link Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.
Old Oak will also link directly to St Pancras and the HS1 line from St Pancras to Europe via a new tunnel under Primrose Hill.
HS2 will link London to Birmingham, cutting travel times to around 49 minutes. Much of the route has been altered in this latest ministerial announcement, but the most significant change for West London is the volte-face on Old Oak. In the summer, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said he did not favour the interchange there, saying: “Change trains at a wet suburban station somewhere in north west London. That is not an option.”
His opinion has now changed, perhaps in part altered by the lobbying from LB Hammersmith & Fulham, and the support from the GLA, announced by Sir SImon Milton at the Place West London Conference in October this year.
Old Oak will now provide the main link to Heathrow Airport, with an interchange to both Crossrail and to the Heathrow Express service. It is hoped this will provide incentive for domestic shorthaul passengers to transfer from air to rail. However, BAA’s Mike Forster said at the Place West London Conference in October that only around half the switching that a direct link at Heathrow could produce would be realised by a spur link. Tom Foulkes of the Institution for Civil Engineers also points out that the rail service will need to be able to compete on price with flights, which at present it would not.
The interchange is hoped to revitalise the area, and bring a significant amount of land back in to productive use. LB Hammersmith & Fulham hope it will create 5,000 jobs and 10,000 homes.
Council leader Stephen Greenhalgh told the Fulham Chronicle he and fellow councillors had lobbied for two years for the site to be chosen for the rail hub, which will transform an area in which half those of working age are unemployed. He said: “This announcement is a down payment towards the longer term – this is not going to happen overnight.” He added that the regeneration of Old Oak Common is “no longer pie in the sky – it’s going to happen”.
The minister said in of the airport link in his announcement: “The development of a high speed rail network has been a key factor in our decision on additional runways at London’s airports, and that is why we have said from the outset that any such network must be linked to our principal gateway airport. I asked HS2 Ltd to carry out additional work on such links. I have studied that work and the recommendations of Lord Mawhinney’s review. I have also examined Arup’s proposals for a transport hub near Iver.”
He continued: “I have concluded that a spur to the airport, running on the surface close to the M25 for part of its length, is the best option. It is lower-cost than the other options considered by HS2 Ltd, keeps journey times between London and Birmingham to a minimum, and retains the flexibility to be extended into a loop in future. In order to deliver the best possible value for taxpayers’ money, I propose that a spur be constructed as part of the second phase of the network, opening at the same time as the routes to Manchester and Leeds.”
“For the period prior to the opening of that second phase, high speed rail travellers to the airport would be able to change to fast Heathrow Express services at Old Oak Common, where there would also be a direct interchange with Crossrail.”