Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership and its partners, led by Slough Borough Council, are increasing the pressure to deliver a western rail link to Heathrow, with a major decision on the future of rail projects due next month.
The link, which would bring a six-minute journey from Slough and a 28-minute journey from Reading to the airport four times per hour, would transform travel to and from Heathrow and could be in place by 2021.
The £500 million Western Rail Access to Heathrow (WRAtH) project was announced by the government in 2012 and is currently awaiting the outcome of a review of rail infrastructure spend led by Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, which is due to be completed at the end of November.
The WRAtH Stakeholder Steering Group and TVB LEP have co-ordinated support from businesses, local authorities, LEPs and business representative organisations across the Thames Valley, the South West and South Wales to urge Sir Peter Hendy to confirm the scheme as a priority.
The WRAtH group is confident in the strength of the business, economic and environmental case for the rail link and has highlighted the wider benefits to UKplc. Members believe the review will recognise this and give the project the green light.
They say the benefits of the scheme include £800 million of additional economic activity, £1.5 billion of business efficiency savings, 42,000 new jobs, and a modal shift in travel with 10-20 percent of travellers switching from road to rail, meaning one million fewer road journeys.
When delivered, WRLtH will provide a direct rail service from Reading via Slough to Heathrow T5 through a 4km tunnel from the Great Western Main Line east of Slough.
It will enable passengers from the west and the midlands to change at Reading for a direct service to Heathrow, significantly reducing journey times across the South West, South Wales, West Midlands, South Coast and the Thames Valley.
Ruth Bagley, chief executive of Slough Borough Council and project lead for TVB LEP, said: “Unlike most international hub airports, Heathrow currently has rail access in only one direction – towards London – missing the opportunity to connect with 20 million people across the South West, South Wales, West Midlands, the South Coast and Thames Valley.
“A western rail link to Heathrow would be a deliverable, affordable and sensible solution to an acknowledged gap in the UK’s strategic transport infrastructure, benefiting residents and businesses in the Thames Valley and stretching as far afield as Swansea and Plymouth.”
Peter Reed, chairman of TVB LEP, said: “The western rail link to Heathrow is our top strategic transport priority.
“The Thames Valley Berkshire economy is worth over £30 billion a year and an investment of £500 million to deliver the scheme will help to safeguard it for the future, ensuring that it maintains its position as a globally competitive sub region at the heart of the UK’s true economic powerhouse.”
David Sleath, chief executive of SEGRO, owner of Slough Trading Estate, said: “SEGRO and our customers in Slough and business across the Thames Valley believe it is essential the western rail link to Heathrow is delivered to maintain the competitive advantage of business within its catchment.
“60 percent of our customers who took part in a survey said proximity to Heathrow was an important factor in their decision to base themselves in the area and new companies looking to establish in the UK require a base that puts them within easy reach of Heathrow.”
The WRAtH Group has submitted a report to the surface transport to airports inquiry urging them to push government to fully fund the scheme. The parliamentary inquiry has been tasked with looking at whether strategic connections to airports fulfil current and future requirements. Slough Borough Council and TVB LEP also submitted reports highlighting the benefits of the scheme.
The WRAtH Stakeholder Steering Group is chaired by Ruth Bagley, chief executive of Slough Borough Council, and includes representatives of TVB LEP, Network Rail, Heathrow Airport Ltd, Great Western Railway, Crossrail and London Airlines Consultative Committee.