Opinion Former

Multi modal approach set out for Heathrow southern access

Light rail, bus rapid transit, guided busways and autonomous vehicles will all be considered alongside traditional heavy rail to improve access to an expanded Heathrow Airport from the south, the Government has said.

The Department for Transport published guidance and a set of strategic objectives and constraints for providing ‘Southern Access to Heathrow’, where a third runway could become operational in 2026.

It wants to consider an approach based on a programme of interventions, which could be across different modes. ‘This may be more likely to satisfy the required objectives than a single ‘silver bullet’ solution,’ the guidance says.

But promoters of a heavy rail link to serve Heathrow from the south are concerned by indications that interventions will not be in place before 2030.

Heathrow Southern Railway chief executive Graham Cross said: “While the DfT now envisages any link not being completed prior to 2030, our railway could be open and fully serving Surrey, Hampshire and South West London in 2026 if we start now.”

The group’s proposed scheme would connect to Heathrow in a new tunnel from the existing railway network near Staines and Virginia Water.

He added: “Injecting uncertainty by considering experimental transport technologies largely untested in the real world will delay the commencement of this vital new public transport link.”

The Department for Transport says it believes heavy rail would be involved in providing southern access to Heathrow, but that other modes and new innovative technologies are also being considered.

This comes after the EM3 Local Enterprise Partnership – which covers Surrey and Hampshire – urged ministers to bring forward a southern rail link as soon as possible, following plans for an airport congestion charge on cars driving to Heathrow.

“If there is no southern rail link then businesses will have to carry on driving to Heathrow, but in doing so they will from 2026 become liable to pay a vehicle access charge for every visit,” said EM3’s head of transport Kevin Travers.

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