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23 FEBRUARY 2015
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Last Friday the Mayor of London announced the establishment of a West Anglian Task Force to look at opportunities to improve connections to Stansted Airport and Cambridge from Liverpool Street Station.
This publication has long highlighted the case of the 'Stansted Slow' and the development, or not, of London’s third airport.
The blame for the poor rail service to Stansted has in recent times been laid at the feet of the current Chief Executive of Network Rail, which may be true to a minor extent. Historically the guilt lies elsewhere, mainly due to the thoroughly discredited BAA management who ran the airport from 1966 until its sale to MAG in January 2013.
BAA was privatised in 1986 and by 1991 a new terminal had been completed including a three-platform terminal railway station. In truth this was no more than a ‘siding’ off the London Liverpool Street secondary main line (two-track once outside the main metropolitan area) to Cambridge. It was cheap, quick and easy to build but not much more than a PR stunt suggesting that Stansted had a proper London connection. Someone had the bright idea to call it the Stansted Express, which it is not, the current operator Abellio Greater Anglia hiding the fact that it stops at least twice on its journey to and from the capital.
The history of the train lines into East Anglia is fascinating and goes back to the great Victorian railway building bonanza.
Unlike its fellow university sister Oxford, Cambridge was not considered mainstream, a pure university town. It was a minor target for the railway moguls.
In the mid-2000s BAA commissioned a report on the future of Stansted but it would have needed a microscope to have learnt anything about the rail link. There was a single mention in the middle of a sentence. Plenty of graphs and what have proved to be totally optimistic passenger numbers. Clearly it was put together by out of touch consultants!
If ever Stansted is to get anywhere near suggested numbers it needs for up to half its passengers to arrive and depart by rail. Amsterdam and Zurich are classic examples of how it should be done. Nearer to home, London City Airport had a 1.6m throughput in 2004. The DLR arrived in 2005. By 2007 the numbers had jumped to 2.9m with 50% of travellers arriving and leaving by the light railway.
Part of the Cambridge line is four-track, and it is said that doubling up the missing links is not impossible. The alternative of a new dedicated rail line is probably too expensive, likewise a monorail system.
If Stansted is ever to reach its potential it has to be served by a fast non-stop rail service to at least as far as Tottenham Hale (or similar Underground system connecting point). Action is what is required, and not just talk. The ‘Stansted Slow’ needs speeding up.
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