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.