Heathrow rail hub, HS2 and third runway all being planned?

7.1.2008   (Rail News)

THE British government appears to be paving the way for a possible ‘triple whammy’
announcement of plans for a new rail hub serving London’s Heathrow Airport, plus a new high-speed rail line between London and the North — as well as a third runway at Heathrow.

Late last year, leaks indicated that the government is keen to go ahead with
Heathrow’s third runway despite strong opposition, including from some Cabinet
ministers. Hilary Benn, the Environment Secretary, is understood to be leading
opposition to the plans, together with climate change secretary Ed Miliband.

The Conservatives are also opposed and have said they would scrap the extra runway
and go ahead with a new high-speed rail line to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds

But early in January, Transport Minister Andrew (Lord) Adonis told The Financial
Times there was “a very strong case” for a new £20 billion high-speed line between
London, Birmingham and Manchester.   He indicated his thoughts were for a 200 mph
(350 km/h) line to the north — 50 km/h faster than High Speed 1, Britain’s only
high-speed liner so far line, connecting London to the Channel Tunnel.

He later went on to tell The Sunday Times that the government was enthusiastic
about proposals for a £4.5 billion station called the Heathrow Hub, which would
involve the extension of High Speed 1 from London’s St Pancras International station
to the airport, as well as linking to a new high-speed line to the north, and
would enable high-speed trains to go from Heathrow via the Channel Tunnel to Continental

The Heathrow rail hub, which was first proposed by Arup, the engineering consultancy,
would also be served by First Great Western services, and by Crossrail when it
is built — also by the proposed Airtrak project to extend Heathrow Express trains
to Reading, via Staines, and providing a new rail link to Gatwick Airport.

Network Rail’s £425 million modernization scheme for Reading station, announced
last year, already includes provision for Airtrak services.

Arup’s plans for the Hub envisage a 12-platform station built on the northern
boundary of Heathrow, operating direct high-speed services to the Continent and
cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff.   If it goes
ahead, the project would strengthen the case for electrification — and possible
upgrading — of the Great Western Main Line to South Wales and the West Country

Lord Adonis told The Sunday Times: "I think that [the Hub] is an attractive idea.
It’s vital that we have an integrated approach to planning new rail capacity and
any new airport capacity that’s also required."

Since his appointment last October, Adonis has been put in charge of a National
Networks Strategy Group, which is looking at all aspects or road, rail and airport

"The key issue on the hub is whether the north-south line would also serve Heathrow
and therefore offer much better interchange facilities at Heathrow and the capacity
to get to and from Heathrow much more rapidly and conveniently from other parts
of the country," he said.

In a strong hint that all three projects — a 200mph north-south line, the Heathrow
Hub, and a third runway – could be developed together, he said:    "It makes good
sense to plan improvements to Heathrow and the rail system together."

Building a separate line, dedicated to trains running at 200 mph, would bring
Birmingham within 45 minutes and Manchester within 75 minutes or so of London.

It would also mean that passengers from Birmingham could reach Paris in under
three hours, and from Manchester the city-centre to city-centre journey would
be less than four hours.

According to The Financial Times, rail is at the heart of Lord Adonis’s network
strategy, notably the high-speed line to replace capacity on the West Coast Main
Line, forecast to be at saturation point within 15 years in spite of its recent

“There are significant discussions that have to take place, particularly on the
funding side of things,” he says.     “Do I believe there is a strong case for proceeding
with a north-south high-speed line?     Yes, I do.     It is not yet a conclusive
case, but it is certainly strong.”

Lord Adonis expects business and local authorities to help pay for the line.    
Crossrail has provided a template, with BAA and companies in the City of London
and Canary Wharf committing more than £700m towards the east-west link.     “I think
you’d be looking to a partnership funding model, a contribution not just from
government but from agencies and businesses that would benefit,” he said.

Lord Adonis said new laws proposed by the Government to streamline the planning
process could allow a new high-speed line to be completed within 15 years, just
as forecasts suggest capacity on the recently-modernised West Coast Main Line
will be exhausted.

To minimise disruption, Lord Adonis said new tracks could be laid alongside existing
rail lines or motorways.     “The idea that it has to be a line that goes through
virgin territory isn’t necessarily right,” he said.

Greengauge 21, headed by former Strategic Rail Authority director Jim Steer, has already proposed
the first stage of a new high-speed line should follow the Chiltern Line and M40
Motorway towards Birmingham — with a spur into Birmingham city centre via Solihull
— and then follow the M42 Motorway past Birmingham International Airport towards
Tamworth to connect with the West Coast Main Line where it has just been expanded
from two to four tracks.  

Network Rail last year set up a special study into the need for extra track capacity
across the British rail network, and to explore whether high-speed operation is
justified if new tracks are needed.   The study is looking at five corridors —
the West Coast Main Line, the East Coast Main Line, England-Scotland, the Great
Western Main Line and Trans-Pennine routes.     The study is due to be completed
later in 2009.