Transportation links into Heathrow, Gatwick, and a possible new Estuary Airport were debated at the Runways UK Surface Access conference at Pinsent Masons in London.
The Airports Commission has shortlisted three options to increase aviation runway capacity in the UK: a third runway to the northwest at Heathrow; the extension of a runway at Heathrow proposed by the independent Heathrow Hub group; a second runway at London Gatwick, while it will make a decision shortly on whether to add the multi-billion Estuary Airport to the list.
The first keynote speaker, Michael Schabas, from FCP, outlined his view on any expansion decision: “Connectivity is really important, followed by frequency, reliability, speed, and price,” he says.
In his view, London can learn about surface access from the Frankfurt inter-city transport links: “You can go almost anywhere in Germany on a train from Frankfurt Airport – an interesting example for London.”
He warned the UK not to make the same ‘big mistake’ made in Shanghai, China, where separate domestic and international airports were built on each side of the city.
Schabas told delegates he believes the Piccadilly line loop link with T4 at Heathrow was a ‘mistake’ and thinks it may be scrapped in the future.
He did appear to support a new runway at Heathrow, as highlighted it was in the right place for expansion, due to its location and links into London, and proximity to rail links and motorways, and the six million that use the Piccadilly line to get there.
Any new runway in the UK will have a huge impact on the Transport for London (Tfl) network, and managing director of planning and transport for Tfl, Michele Dix, says it is already crowded.
“Come 2031 even with all this committed schemes it is crowded on the underground and roads. We are playing catch-up at Tfl with the growth in London.
“There is substantial crowding in the future at peak hours even with planned improvements,” Dix explains.
Improved rail links to cope with the influx of more passengers resulting from the building of any new runway is seen as essential for making sure surface access is efficient.
Network Rail strategy and planning director, Paul Harwood, told delegates new runways at Gatwick and Heathrow, would increase use on the rail network by 6% at peak times.
“Both Heathrow and Gatwick would contribute a relatively small proportion of demand into London in the morning peak, but expansion at either are not peak hour game-changers,” he says.
Harwood says any airport expansion should be considered as a contributor to growth, and Network Rail is yet to assess the impact of the proposed Estuary Airport.
In his briefing, Airports Commission Secretariat Oliver Mulvey, highlighted the importance the quality of surface access, and says the commission considering ‘speed, cost and reliability’.
“For each option shortlisted, we will look at how good access to London is, across the South East and the regions,” Mulvey explains.
Any of the runway projects, he notes need to the balance the needs of commuters, airport passengers and freight use in their surface access strategy.
Mulvey explains the commission will undergo an intensive summer appraisal of all the shortlisted options, before a national consultation on each from around October time.
As for the Estuary Airport proposal, he says four feasibility studies have been carried out, including one on surface transport, and all the studies will be published for comment in July.
The commission will make a decision on the Boris Johnson championed new hub on the Isle of Grain in Kent in August, or September, and Mulvey says, if it is shortlisted it could push back their timetable.
In his presentation on the Estuary Airport, Huw Thomas, a partner at Foster + Partners, architect for the project, explains it would have a transportation hub, servicing all transport modes.
Among proposals, Thomas says are construction of a Lower Thames bridge crossing linking Kent and Essex by rail and road, while rail links are a key part of the plans, as it connects the ‘crisis of increased population in the east of London’ and to routes for economic needs.
Thomas says the integrated transportation hub, would be similar to Hong Kong International Airport: “Downtown check-in is critical and a key of how an airport functions. Passengers would be able to drop bags off at the transport hub on arrival, which would go direct to gates,” he explains.
Thomas believes a long-term decision must be made by the commission as expansion affects generations of the future.
Gatwick’s propsed Gatwick Gateway
As part of London Gatwick’s plans for a second runway, is a new single transportation centre Gatwick Gateway, which would handle all transportation arrivals.
Head of airport development, Julia Gregory, told delegates that ‘maximising’ public transport was a key part of the strategy, and it hopes 60% passengers will arrive by public transport, by 2040.
The M25 and M23 would also be improved, including the doubling of capacity at Junction 9 of the M23, while coach and bus links would be ramped up.
Gregory says the Gatwick Gateway is deliverable by 2021: “15 million people would be within 60 minutes of Gatwick, and one million people within 25 miles.”
Gatwick says by 2019 there will be a train to London every 2.5 minutes, rail capacity will be doubled by 2020, nearly trebled by 2035, and 1000 rail stations will be within one change.
Heathrow’s planned transportation hub
Heathrow Airport head of surface access strategy, Simon Earles, then told delegates improving surface access is a key part of the gateway’s runway proposal, and one transportation hub is planned as part of the restructuring project – which would feature a Heathrow West and Heathrow East.
Part of Heathrow’s plans are a western rail link and a southern rail link, that Earles describes as the ‘missing link’ in the network, and he says by 2030 the number of trains to Heathrow would double, and the number of seats tripled, by increasing capacity on all services.
If a third runway is built, modifications would be made to the M4, and M25, including the building of a 650 metre tunnel for the M25.
The centre of the independent Heathrow Hub group’s surface access plans, is a Heathrow Hub Station interchange to the north of the airport, including a passenger bag drop with links to all terminals.
Director Mike Bostock, urges an integrated approach to surface access, including new a rail link to the south, and a link with the proposed HS2, and also told delegates if Heathrow is expanded, it should be planned with a fourth runway in mind.
The Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies will give its final recommendations to the government after next May’s general election.