Monday, 25 April 2011

Heathrow planned southern rail link to Waterloo and Reading abandoned

Just before UK Plc headed off for its 2-3 week series of Easter and Royal Wedding Bank Holidays the long mooted short rail link from Heathrow to the main line rail southern system back to Waterloo and onwards to Reading ,the most prolific western hub of the UK rail network, was quietly dropped. The scheme, for which a pair of through platforms had been built at Terminal 5 when it was opened had reached the Works Approval stage . This would have been the last hurdle before building began. What we are seeing therefore is a last minute slamming on of the brakes.

This screech and smell of burning rubber will be a major disappointment across a large swathe of population centres to the south of the airport which will have for years relied on much slower and more congested road links. The very long standing Rail-Air coach link between Heathrow and Reading will have to continue and for the sake of a relatively easily constructed few miles the huge imbalance of Heathrow's only rail connections being to and from the east will continue. It seems to have all become too difficult largely due to the extra burden it would have put on level crossing blighted roads ,notably one on the major A3 at Sunningdale in the heart of Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond's constituency.

One possible silver lining, which could materialise if only to cover the embarassment of the unused through platforms, is the alternative use for them as providing the the way to connect back to the Great Western main line heading westwards to Slough, Maidenhead and Reading. This could provide the high quality connections to the west,midlands,and even Scotland that the airport has always lacked. The link should have been built years ago but was always obstructed by the lines west from Paddington being dieselised rather than electrified in the 1960s. Only relatively recently has electrification been carried out as far as the airport for Heathrow Express and later Heathrow Connect. Now that it is to be extended as far as Reading and Didcot the overhead wires will be in place by 2016. The opportunity is obvious ,potentially relatively simple and inexpensive and should be seized without having to go through years of Department for Transport head scratching studies, reviews and consultancy reports. It's the sort of decision which could be made around the Department's water coolers at fraction of all those costs and years of delay. Supporting business cases, environmental studies and the rest could be done in a fun day or two with the aid of Google maps rather than over several years of countless meetings and tooth sucking. Somebody please say: "Just do it".

Over to the MP for Runnymede and Weybridge (and Sunningdale level crossing).

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