17 AUGUST 2009

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Article from BTNews 17 AUGUST 2009

COMMENT: 'Express' to Stansted

Last week in COMMENT we asked a question of Lord Adonis, master of the UK universe on all matters concerning transport.  With his known love of trains here is something he can get his teeth into.

The news that the two non-stop train services from central London to both Gatwick and Heathrow are to go their own ways in the future (see Airport Express below) highlights just what a mess the Stansted equivalent is.

In a past life your Editor dubbed the Stansted Express, “The Stansted Slow”.  The title was and still is a complete misnomer, worthy of one of Stansted’s most prominent tenants, Ryanair, whose statements are often completely misleading. 

The train operates from London’s Liverpool Street main line station via Tottenham Hale and depending on its mood (and timetable) Harlow and Bishops Stortford to a three-platform station under the Stansted terminal.  When it was built it was a quick and cheap fix in case anyone asked deep questions regarding communications to the airport, a short branch line off the existing tracks from London to Cambridge.  It is hardly an express and seems to suffer from industrial action on a regular basis. 

The real problem with the railway line is not its inadequacy and operating hours that are not always in line with that of the airport but the fact that the majority of passengers use the road for their airport access making the M11 one of the most congested and accident prone highways in the country.  Listeners to local radio in North London, and on Mr Wogan’s (BBC Radio 2) early morning programme will testify that the M11 now competes with any other motorway in the country as far as airtime is concerned, seemingly always featuring an accident or serious congestion.

If any AERBT readers care to take a look at the Stansted master plan they should arm themselves with a magnifying glass to try and find any reference to rail surface links.  There are virtually none.

AERBT supports the expansion of Stansted.  It does not support the growth unless this is coupled to some sort of high speed mass transport link to a major London gateway.  It does not have to be a traditional train, a light railway or monorail could do the job.

In spite of the very high charges which must make Heathrow Express one of the world’s most expensive railway lines there is little doubt it has been a success, a very clever integration of a dedicated service into the heart of Paddington.

Airport Express was up and running with Gatwick and Heathrow prior to Stansted joining.  We do not know why the three-way partnership failed to work, but in any event the Stansted line is now run by the operator ‘One’.

If Stansted is really to be a success, whoever the owner is, a proper rail link is a priority, even before a second runway.  It is all probably too late for the Olympics with Stansted earmarked as a major gateway.

We wish the Gatwick and Heathrow dedicated London train operators every success with their new arrangements.  And we thank them for highlighting Stansted.  The rail link is a very serious problem which has been pushed under the carpet, in a manner of speaking, for too long.  Lord Adonis might just be the man to come up with a solution and show the air transport world that he really cares for that vital part of British commerce.

Malcolm Ginsberg
Editor in Chief

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