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HS2 needs to improve connections to airports – Transport Select Committee

HS2 needs to include plans to link the railway network and airports and rail access to airports needs to improve, a Transport Select Committee report released today says.

The report, Surface Transport to Airports, says that rail connections are crucial for surface access to airports and that airports with their own direct connections attract more passengers – for example, Gatwick Airport has the highest rail mode share of any UK airport.

The report says: “It remains an issue of concern to us that having committed to spending £55bn on the HS2 rail project – which we welcome – the department has provided no evidence of how it plans to best leverage the new capacity generated by the project to deliver improvements to our key international gateways, particularly our airports.”

It recommends that that the government draw up plans showing how the HS2 network will link to regional airports so airports, local authorities and Network Rail can take them into account in their own plans. They also want Network Rail to demonstrate that it has considered airport surface access.

Problems with railway access to airports

The report also found more general problems with railway access to airports, including increasing demand, overcrowding and airport services that are not accessible to wider communities.

Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) told the committee: “The last decade has seen a strong move away from private cars and toward public transport as the main way of accessing larger airports. Government policy needs to be reassessed so to reinforce this positive trend and tackle incremental airport development with surface access based around new road building.

“National infrastructure planning for airports needs to take more account of surface access in its initial stages. The absence of good existing or potential surface access should be a clearer barrier to airport capacity increases.”

CBT cited Civil Aviation Authority statistics showing that airport arrivals by public transport increased in 2004-14 by 17% at Heathrow and Gatwick, 25% at Stansted, 16% at Luton and 78% at Manchester. However, they said that of the 21 UK airports which saw more than one million passengers in 2014, only nine have direct rail connections.

Overcrowding on trains to airports is also an issue. A Department of Transport study found that four of the 10 most overcrowded services in the country serve an airport, with the Glasgow Central to Manchester Airport service leading at 186% capacity.

Hounslow Borough Council warned that it had seen a decline in people using the Piccadilly Line to access Heathrow Airport and said: “Left to their own devices, any airport operator is likely always to support a dedicated and prestige service such as Heathrow Express even though this generates limited wider benefits for the UK economy and - given that it actually takes up valuable infrastructure capacity - may actually inhibit improvements to public transport that would help increase local sustainable transport options.

 “This means that it is crucial that surface access is planned with due regards to regional and national connectivity requirements and not just by airport operators in isolation.”

Network Rail: improvements planned but airport passengers not ‘a game changer’

In written evidence to the committee, Network Rail said: “Clearly, better access to air travel can play a large role in providing better access to markets, national and international destinations, business and leisure opportunities, and to jobs.

“Rail is a vital ingredient in improving the travel experience and offering for air passengers. New and improved rail services and their integration with other transport modes at major airports are key to providing more sustainable travel opportunities.”

It said that it considers rail connectivity to airports in its studies and long-term planning process and that its £40bn Railway Upgrade Plan includes a seventh platform at Gatwick Airport station, a fourth platform at Manchester Airport station and rail upgrades to Heathrow, although the airport is not due to acquire a HS2 spur.

It said that it aimed for sufficient capacity, minimal interchange and a minimum frequency of two trains an hour during peak airport operation, but that this could conflict with other passengers’ demands, such as commuters’ need for frequent stops. It therefore tried to use an integrated approach, for instance by starting the Gatwick Express as far back as Brighton at peak times to accommodate commuters.

Network Rail added: “While it is important to accommodate rail passengers who are travelling to airports, they do not represent a game changer for rail demand at the busiest time of day on the train network” and that the increase in passengers is largely driven by commuters.”

For example, Heathrow Airport Ltd’s modelling suggests that if it were to expand, airport passengers would form less than 10% of total demand on the route into London Paddington in the peak periods. The expansion plans have proved controversial, with 13 environmental activists receiving suspended sentences for opposing them on Wednesday.

However, Network Rail said it did foresee an increase in passengers accessing airports by rail on some networks – for instance, the number of passengers using the Brighton Main Line to Gatwick Airport at peak time was 27,300 in 2011 and is predicted to reach 47,600 by 2043.

In 2013, the Airports Commission produced an interim report recommending better rail links to London airports.

UPDATE: 29 February 8.45am

A Department for Transport spokesman said in response: “The Government has a fully integrated approach to transport planning and we are investing unprecedented amounts of money to deliver infrastructure fit for the 21st century.

"HS2 will play an important role in boosting access to major and regional airports across the UK, including Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham. We are also working closely with airport operators, local authorities, Highways England and Network Rail to ensure airport access across the transport network is the very best.

"We welcome the Transport Select Committee’s work and we will respond fully to the recommendations set out in the report in due course.”

(Image c. Heathrow)


R M Edwards   26/02/2016 at 14:54

By extending the Crossrail link to Heathrow to the west and taking it to Woking would improve the rail connections to Heathrow and help to alleviate the congestion between Woking and Waterloo.

Graham Nalty   26/02/2016 at 20:44

For people arriving at an airport, good onward transport is necessary. If the passenger's destination is a long way away, then a fast rail service is important. High speed rail networks can and should link a hub airport to large cities, such as Heathrow to Leeds and Newcastle. Our European competitors bring their high speed rail network right up to the airport terminals. That is the standard the UK should apply to demonstrate that Britain is 'open for business'. Our high speed rail routes should connect our main airport terminals to our larger city centres, but half of HS2 stations are at parkway sites in locations no one wants to visit.

Michael Still   27/02/2016 at 20:58

I have flown from Milton Keynes in the past to IOM, Belfast and Aberdeen from BHI. Always worried going up that Rugby to BHI corridor because this corridor very busy and prone to delays in the past. Also travelled to Heathrow for flights to Germany,Netherlands an Belguim. The Elizabeth Line will definitely make the journey better but at a cost. Middlesbrough airport lost its rail connection I believe. A lot needs to be done.

Michael Wand   28/02/2016 at 17:22

The East Midlands economy would get its best growth prospects from a high speed rail stop inside East Midlands Airport with a chord off into Derby Station, one into Nottingham Station and one to divert the MML into it from just north of Loughborough. HS2 can't do this because London-think decided it must go speed-first to Birmingham, after which it's travelled too far north to stop at anywhere else but Toton.

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