Rail links crucial for West London economy

At the West London Business Transport Seminar, delegates heard about plans to link Heathrow better to the rail network, helping to ease congestion around the airport even if it expands.

Colin Matthews, CEO of Heathrow Airport pointed at the existing link – Heathrow Express – the one under construction – Crossrail – and hopes, with just 17 miles of new track, to make direct rail links to 2000 miles of UK network with the Western Rail Access and Southern Rail Access plans.

Paul Harwood of Network Rail confirmed studies are under way  on the feasibility of the new connections, which should conclude in 2015.

All this, said Matthews, could increase air passenger use of public transport to 50%. This, combined with initiatives to reduce Heathrow worker transport, presently at 30,000 car journeys a day according to reports, by half, could significantly reduce Heathrow’s contribution to congestion.

However, since we know that only one journey in five around the airport actually involves Heathrow as a destination or start point, there is a residual congestion issue which Heathrow cannot solve. However, that also means that expansion of the airport, if in concert with the improvements described above, might not make the current road situation in West London appreciably worse, and indeed could actually make for less congestion.

Peter Fry, Head of Public Affairs at HS2, making the point that he believes HS2 is the “foundation for future growth and prosperity” in the UK, was clear on the importance of Old Oak – a new interchange linking HS2 with Crossrail, the West Coast Main Line, the Heathrow Express and local services including London Overground.

This interchange he said, agreeing with the Mayor of London and LB Hammersmith & Fulham, could help create 90,000 jobs and 19,000 new homes.

He also spoke at length about the Heathrow Spur. It is Government policy to link HS2 directly to Heathrow Airport, provided that it remains part of the UK’s aviation trategy. The work on the Spur is presently paused pending the Davies Review. The route and station location has been published, land safeguarded, and Phase One works included such as retaining walls to allow future construction of a spur without interfering with what will by then be an operational phase one HS2 service.

Matthews also talked about expansion at Heathrow, and the criticism laid on it that it is “not politically deliverable”. He referred to their survey conducted by Populous asking if people were more or less likely to vote for a parliamentary candidate who supported Heathrow which showed that MPs were more likely to get re-elected if supporting expansion in Brentford & Isleworth, Ealing Central & Acton, Feltham & Heston, Hillingdon, Spelthorne, and Windsor, and that only in  Richmond was the balance against expansion.

Among the questions was one from Peter Mynors, who asked about the connections between orbital and radial connections. Peter was the author of a study of a West London Orbital Underground rail. He suggested that current plans for the interchange at Old Oak made the connections with the North-South West London Line (London Overground) rather difficult.

What is true is that the engineering problems around Old Oak are sizeable. However, as Sir Terry Farrell said at Place West London, it is the potential to generate the jobs and homes at the site where the long term value for West London lies. The task is perhaps to make sure that HS2, Network Rail and others make the investment in engineering which may be more expensive than is strictly necessary, to allow future flexibility in exploiting the full regeneration potential of Old Oak. That is of course what the Mayoral MDC has been put in place to ensure. Their challenge is clear.

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