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Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document

Meeting of the Environment Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on 24/04/2002
Airtrack Project - Rail Links to Heathrow


[Wards Affected: N/A]
Summary and Purpose

AirTrack is a project which aims to provide new rail links to Heathrow Airport from the south and south west, including Surrey. A Forum has been established to support the project, comprising of local authorities, business interests and community organisations. Officers have attended the initial meetings of the Forum.

The purpose of this report is to bring the AirTrack project to the attention of Members and to recommend to the Executive that the Council should support this project. The report also recommends a response to a consultation draft Planning Brief prepared by Spelthorne Borough Council.

There are no ‘Opportunities for All’, community safety or human rights implications arising from this report. The resource and environmental implications are set out in the report.

1. Heathrow is the world’s busiest airport and handles a large proportion of the UK’s commercial air traffic. In 1998, approximately 60 million passengers passed through Heathrow. This was over twice the number of the next busiest airport, Gatwick and represented some 38% of the UK total passenger throughput of 159 million.

2. It is currently forecast that the number of passengers using UK airports will grow by some 4.25% per annum up to the year 2020. Although Heathrow has recently been growing at a slower rate than many other UK airports, the Terminal 5 decision means that passenger numbers can be expected to continue rising in the next 10-20 years. This is likely to entail further traffic growth on the already congested road network around Heathrow.

3. Throughout its existence, Heathrow airport has been poorly served by public transport. Despite the extension to the airport of the Piccadilly underground line and the more recent construction of the Heathrow Express high-speed rail link to Paddington Station in central London, Heathrow remains virtually cut off from the national main line railway system.

4. Members will be aware of the difficulties of travelling to Heathrow by public transport from this area. At present, there is no direct or easy link from local rail stations to the airport. A coach service operates between Woking Station and Heathrow, but this is expensive, not always conveniently timed for passengers and can be affected by traffic congestion.

5. The idea of connecting Heathrow to the national rail network has been attracting interest for many years, but previous schemes have failed to materialise because of various difficulties such as lack of funding and public opposition. The launch of the Terminal 5 proposals in 1993 led to renewed interest in rail access to Heathrow via Terminal 5, and subsequent studies identified the potential route of the scheme now known as AirTrack.

The AirTrack Proposals

5. A diagrammatic representation of the AirTrack proposals is attached at Annexe 1. The scheme would connect all Heathrow’s major terminals with the London to Reading main line at Staines. The new AirTrack line, some 4km long, would link with the existing Heathrow Express tracks and exit the airport at its western end, under the site to be occupied by Terminal 5. 6. After crossing the River Colne the AirTrack line would head south alongside the M25 and across the western edge of Staines Moor, broadly following the route of a former railway embankment. Dipping under the A30, it would join the existing Windsor railway line just west of Staines Station. A new ‘chord’ would be constructed to the London-Reading main line to allow trains to proceed both west and east without reversing. A new station is also proposed to serve Staines town centre.

7. AirTrack would open the possibility of a direct link to Heathrow from a second London terminus (Waterloo or Victoria), and would provide the opportunity to introduce direct rail services to Heathrow from South West London, Surrey and Berkshire. It is currently envisaged that direct services would run as far as Woking and Guildford, with connecting services from stations in Waverley on the Portsmouth line and from Farnham via Ascot. Annexe 1 shows a plan of the proposed AirTrack network.

8. Potentially the project could offer the opportunity for new inter-city links between the south coast, the midlands and the north, passing through Heathrow and bypassing central London. It could also improve orbital rail services around London by linking important interchange stations such as Woking and Watford.

9. AirTrack would cost about 170 million and take two years to build once consultation has been undertaken, detailed design completed and planning permission obtained. It is anticipated that approximately 12 trains per hour would run in each direction on the AirTrack route from Staines northwards, operating over an 18 hour day between 6am and midnight. The project sponsors (British Airports Authority and Railtrack) estimate that it could attract five million passengers a year and take 2,000 cars a day off the roads. The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) is sponsoring research to test these demand forecasts.

The AirTrack Forum

10. The project is being supported by the AirTrack Forum, an association of local authorities, transport and business interests. Officers have attended the first two meetings of the Forum, which was established to create a wider knowledge of the AirTrack project and the benefits it could bring. 11. Although the SRA’s Strategic Plan identifies AirTrack as a scheme for further development, it indicates that there is unlikely to be sufficient funding or technical resources available to support implementation before 2010. The Forum is pressing the Government, the SRA and Railtrack to give AirTrack higher priority in future investment decisions, and has formed a working group chaired by George Burnett of Surrey County Council to drive the project forward.
Officer Comments

12. The Government’s decision to approve Terminal 5 has enhanced the business case for AirTrack and has given added impetus to the project. Although the implementation of AirTrack was not made a condition of the planning permission, the Secretary of State stressed the need “to encourage the introduction and use of additional public transport services at Heathrow”.

13. The AirTrack Forum has recently produced a publicity leaflet and has written to this Council, along with many other organisations, asking for support. Whilst Waverley does not have the resources, either directly or in terms of officer time, to contribute in a significant way to the development of this project, it is felt that the AirTrack scheme is worthy of the Council’s support. It would significantly improve public transport access to Heathrow from this area, which would not only be of benefit to air passengers but also to Waverley residents who work at Heathrow or in the surrounding area. 14. In wider terms, the project would fit in with the Government’s integrated transport policy and would help to tackle congestion on the busiest stretch of the M25 adjacent to Heathrow. It is also important for the development of a sustainable economy in the region to improve public transport links between the economically buoyant areas to the south and south west of London and the country’s busiest airport.

Spelthorne Planning Brief

15. The Council has recently been consulted by Spelthorne Borough Council on a draft Planning Brief relating to the AirTrack corridor. This Brief sets out the constraints and opportunities that need to be addressed in the development of the scheme where it passes through Spelthorne. It does not take a stance on the principle of building AirTrack, but instead recognises that it is being developed and that Spelthorne, as the Borough most affected, needs to establish a framework within which the development of the scheme should progress.

16. The Brief highlights opportunities associated with the scheme, but also calls for various measures to minimise the potential impact on nearby residents and the local environment. The section of the route which would pass through Staines Moor is particularly environmentally sensitive. It is considered that Waverley’s response should avoid commenting in any detail on local issues affecting Spelthorne but should acknowledge that there will be local impacts that need to be addressed, whilst supporting the project in principle.

Resource Implications

17. At present there are no resource implications for Waverley. However, it is possible that the AirTrack Forum may decide to introduce a system of membership subscriptions if costs increase in future . If the Council is asked to contribute towards the work of the Forum, then a further report will be prepared so that Members may decide whether or not to make a financial subscription.

Environmental Implications

18. If implemented, the scheme should bring significant environmental benefits such as reductions in the relative levels of traffic congestion and pollution in the vicinity of the airport, the M25 and on feeder roads.


That the Committee recommends to the Executive that:

1. the Council supports the AirTrack proposals in principle and advises the AirTrack Forum accordingly; and

2. the Council thanks Spelthorne Borough Council for the opportunity to comment on its draft Planning Brief and advises Spelthorne that Waverley supports the AirTrack proposals in principle, but recognises that the project would have a range of local environmental impacts which are best resolved through a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (including the consideration of alternative options) and through detailed discussions between Spelthorne and the scheme promoters on the basis of the framework set out in the Brief.
Background Papers (DoP&D)

Spelthorne Borough Council, Planning Brief; The AirTrack Corridor – Consultation Draft, February 2002


Name: Adrian Roche Telephone: 01483 523472
e-mail: aroche@waverley.gov.uk