26 JULY 2010

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Article from BTNews 26 JULY 2010

COMMENT: Heathrow rail connections

In the dying embers of the last Government Lord Adonis, whose short stay as Transport Minster could be considered a success, asked Lord Mawhinney to undertake a review of high-speed rail access to Heathrow Airport.  Lord Mawhinney’s background did include a very short stay in Transport during the John Major premiership but he is more remembered for a highly controversial tenure as Chairman of the Football League.

As a former Member of Parliament for Peterborough, Mawhinney seems to be somewhat weak in his geography of Heathrow.  “While I was visiting the Iver site (with Arup) I realised that while the Great Western Main Line (GWML) runs within about two miles of Heathrow, there is no rail connection between the GWML and the airport.”  A rail link between Heathrow and Hayes as a connection with the Great Western has been obvious for 60 years!

In a four-month period Mawhinney has produced a 33-page report that has the backing of the new Minister Philip Hammond.  Whether deliberate or not, its publication in the middle of Farnborough does not seem to have gained the coverage it deserves. 

Lord Mawhinney took evidence from a whole gaggle of observers of the travel scenario and those with vested interests but it is not always clear in the report who they represent.  (Greengauge 21 is a lobbying group promoting high-speed rail, whilst Arup is a well respected transport consultancy.)  The actual major British airlines, that is BA, bmi and Virgin Atlantic, who are the ones that really know about passengers’ travel requirements, had their say, watered down one could argue, under the leadership of Roger Wiltshire, the retiring General Secretary of the British Air Transport Association (BATA).

His Lordship toured possible sites for high-speed rail stations at Heathrow, Iver and Old Oak Common.  He visited Amsterdam Schiphol, Frankfurt and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports – the other main European hubs – and discussed with them their experience of high-speed rail operations to those airports.

For reasons that AERBT finds incomprehensible Lord Mawhinney seems to have ventured into (and presumably spent time considering) the vexed question of runway slot allocation.  This has virtually nothing to do with the Heathrow rail link.

The recommendation of Lord Mawhinney is that Old Oak Common should be the initial London terminal for a new high-speed rail line to the north and that there was no compelling case in its early stages for a direct link for that railway into Heathrow.  Crossrail and other existing rail and tube connections would suffice.

For readers who are not aware of Old Oak Common’s location it is better known as Willesden Junction, one of the world’s busiest railway stations in Queen Victoria’s time.  It is a particularly run down area, with a very complicated and extremely busy narrow road system north of Wormwood Scrubs and south of Harlesden.  Other than a complex rail arrangement and engineering works it has nothing to compliment itself in terms of a national transport interface.

Lord Mawhinney’s recommendation is clearly an interim Department of Transport case study that has gone wrong.  The real problem is the new Government’s total lack of direction regarding the future of air transport and any guidance at all from Downing Street.  If Heathrow is to remain as the world’s number one international airport, and with it all the benefits applied to the United Kingdom, once Parliament returns from its summer recess the country deserves to know the Government's view and its plans on how we go about achieving this goal.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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