Heathwick idea a sign of desperation

The Department for Transport has been leaking suggestions that a high speed rail link between Heathrow and Gatwick would improve services at both airports. This smacks of desperation. The government has been hoist by its own petard, having scrapped plans for the third runway, supported by many of  its members, as a short term vote gaining measure.

The idea may seem superfically attractive, but the problems seem insuperable. First, who would pay for the link given that, actually, not that many people would use it. Second, the airports now have different owners, and BAA which still owns Heathrow is, not surprisingly, opposed to this idea. How, indeed, would the conflicting demands of the two airports be reconciled – how would they transfer flights between each other. Third, unless the stations were both airside, the time savings would be marginal. Making them airside would pose all sorts of security and baggage handling issues.

Moreover, the notion that the line could follow the wiggly M25 is fanciful. It would either have to be a new line that would raise more hackles in Surrey than the HS2 plans already do in the Chilterns, or it would have to be put in a tunnel at a ridiculous cost. In truth this idea is just something to float and fool the Tories’ supporters that  ‘something is being done’ about the potential capacity problems of London’s airports, when actually, it not a workable idea.

As it happens, I am delighted that the third runway scheme has been scrapped, but it does leave the government open to criticisms that it has no aviation policy to speak of. My view is that given that there are many marginal destinations still available from Heathrow, the slots should be open up to the market process and the most profitable routes would then be served. For once the market process should be used unfettered. Instead, airlines hoard their slots and therefore the proces is inefficient.

  • FlashingBlade

    If you really want to go for an unfettered market solution, the Government could auction off the slots as they did for telephone licenses.

  • To get HS2 off the ground it may have to be sold as an alternative to Short Haul European air travel (which I think is a good thing) But further probs for gov.

  • struans

    I suspect the DfT is serious about the scheme – or, at least, Hammond is.  Because, no doubt if it goes ahead, it would be built ‘in stages’.    First stage to be built would be from Heathrow alongside the M25 as far as Lyne, next station afterwards would be Chertsey.  The press release would be that trains can then get to Gatwick via Woking, Guildford and Redhill. No doubt the scheme would then be cancelled for all sorts of reasons, but the reality by then would be that a bypass for Egham has been built which is what Hammond wanted all along for his constituency.

  • Caiptean

    This is one of those schemes that sounds like a good idea until the most basic question is asked ‘Just who is going to use it’.

    The current small demand for airport to airport transit is probably more than adequately catered for by the frequent Gatwick – Heathrow coach service.

    There are around 100 buses a day shuttling to and fro so it wouldn’t need many trains to carry all these passengers. However, what the coaches do offer is high frequency service carrying what amounts in railway terms to relatively low numbers of passengers. All the train would be able to offer is a shorter journey time and even then a road scheme such turning the outside lane of the motorway into a coach lane would undermine this (I’m not really making a serious suggestion here).

    Personally I’d like to know what the demand would be for a semi-fast Gatwick – Heathrow service calling at stations along the  Redhill, Croydon, Crystal Palace, Balham, West London Line and Ealing route. Whilst it would not offer a high speed connection the transfer time would be constant and reliable whilst providing many thousands of people along its route with direct connections to both airports for the first time or an improved interchange onto that service.

    Ultimately if the government has sufficient funds slushing around for the extravagance of a high speed link then surely using that money to address the most severe instances of overcrowding in the South-East must be a greater railway priority (if not a high profile vote-winner).

  • Greg Tingey

    In the meantime, something REALLY useful – the third side across-the-bottom @ Redhill is lost in the mists.


  • Wjps

    On the surface the idea seems good. However in practice it may not be. If it was to be used for transit passengers then it would need to operate airside to airside, thus allowing transit passengers not to go through passport control and possibly require UK visas. I really cannot see this happening.

  • Mike

    Heathwick – another Ministry of Silly Ideas (or should that be MfSI?) production, which will never get off the ground. It belongs with Network Rail’s unaffordable plan for a tunnel from Croydon to central London to relieve the Brighton line.

    The sensible plan would be for a totally new airport in the Thames estuary, which could be largely financed by selling off the current Heathrow and Gatwick sites, and for which some of the infrastructure, in the form of HS1 and East London transport schemes, is already present.

    But the estasblishment seems as wedded to the hopeless Heathrow site as ever – even if they can’t have their third runway, at least for the moment!


  • Paul Holt

    Or, a second runway at Stansted (which would head off the greenies and wetlanders that would undoubtedly emerge if an estuary airport ever became serious)…

  • RichardH

    Or better still one bloody great big new island off Dover with umpteen runways and HS railway tunnels to France and England and if necessary direct to Belgium too. Thus a combined Anglo-French Belgo-Dutch longhaul airport. Connections by rail to capital cities in an hour or so.

  • Anonymous

    I would ask the question if there actually is any global precedent for linking airports together at major cities – does anyone transfer between for example, between Newark and JFK or between Paris-CDG and Orly??  Probably not, as airlines are already pretty integrated at one home base – didn’t BA deliberately reduce operations at Gatwick for this very reason, and BA is the dominant airline at Heathrow after all – as are most of the big airline alliances so as to make connections easier.

    Gatwick has always largely been for point-to-point scheduled and charter operations, with very little hub-and-spoke activity.  The whole thing seems rather pointless.

  • Fandroid

    Lufthansa is probably the inspiration behind Heathwick. Passengers can check in at Stuttgart for Frankfurt and then travel there by train. This is despite Stuttgart having a reasonably good airport, with Lufthansa services. Similarly, passengers can check in at Cologne (which has an equally good airport with Lufthansa services) for Frankfurt flights. Both cities have high-speed rail lines connecting with Frankfurt.  I know the Stuttgart service is well used (when I saw it in the summer) using one coach on ICE trains, but the check-in desks at Cologne Hbf looked very empty in November!

    What estuary airport enthusiasts forget is that both Heathrow and Gatwick serve as sub-regional airports for their own sectors of the south-east. It would be bonkers to close them entirely, as it would be to shut Luton or Stansted.  I’m sure you could release a lot of land if an estuary airport were built, but you won’t get those of us living to the west of  London to use it!  Richard Rogers high-speed rail London bypass (4-tracks, and following the M25 of course!) is as barmy as Heathwick.

    BAA anxt about the fact that the continental European hubs have more direct flights to Chinese regional airports than does Heathrow. Perhaps that’s because China is in an easterly direction and Frankfurt and Paris are both closer to China, and more centrally placed in Europe anyway. What German/Dutch/French/Swiss businessman wants to fly west to Heathrow, to change planes there to fly back over his homeland towards China?


  • Fandroid

    Sorry, mixed up my celeb architects (easily done). It’s Norman Foster (not Richard Rogers) who has solved all London airport and rail problems in one fell swoop (complete with pretty pictures).