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NEWS Last modified on November 15, 2013

New air rail link projects on the agenda at the UK AirRail conference

Increased high-speed rail connections to Frankfurt Airport (FRA) and the impending awarding of the new franchise for Gatwick Express, were on the agenda at the UK AirRail conference yesterday.

Connecting for Growth was organised by the Global AirRail Alliance and hosted by Birmingham International Airport at Diamond House.

Markus Pauly, director commercials and development at Lufthansa, and Daniel Schneider, customer services product management at Deutsche Bahn, revealed plans to expand connections to FRA, due to the success of the codeshare partnership.

Pauly says services could be extended linking FRA with the densely populated area of Dortmund, Bochum, Essen, and Duisburg, and it could be expanded to connect FRA with Dresden in the east as well.

He says the high-speed line could also eventually link FRA with Amsterdam and possibly Zurich, but warned if new services were introduced domestic flights to these destinations would be cut.

Pauly told delegates: “Every year a new destination will come in and we will not stop flights to these destinations, but we will reduce the frequencies.

“But before we close flights down we must be sure we do not lose our business to British Airways and other airlines as it is a very risky decision.

“In my view it will close domestic flights more and more.”

High-speed rail services connecting FRA with Stuttgart and Cologne were started in March 2001, and then extended to include Dusseldorf in July this year, which has seen Lufthansa cut its domestic flights, and Pauly says it has cut costs for the carrier, but not for the passengers.

Delegates also heard from Julia Gregory, head of development at London Gatwick, who says the closing date for bids to be in for the Thameslink franchise, which includes the Gatwick Express, is next month.

She says five bids have been submitted to the Department for Transport (DfT) who will make a decision sometime in the Spring, and she hopes transport decision-makers take on-board Gatwick’s suggestions on what it should look like.

Gregory says: “We are hopeful the bids are looking at what we have suggested as it is absolutely crucial we have a good quality, well connected Gatwick Express.”

More than 38% (14mppa) of passengers using the UK’s second busiest airport arrive by train, above the UK average of 23%, while 50% of these travellers use the Gatwick Express.

Gregory says Gatwick’s long-term vision is to create a Gatwick Gateway station with Network Rail , which would hopefully be a ‘seamless’ gateway interchange hub.

Network Rail’s Paul Newman, also told delegates the network is in the early stages of a project to improve links to Heathrow, called the Western Rail Access to Heathrow (WRATH), that could be finished by 2021.

Planned and proposed UK rail links projects such as the £42 billion HS2 and £14.8 billion Crossrail and the impact they would have on airports were also high on the agenda.

Heathrow Express managing director, Keith Greenfield, says he is braced for competition and possible loss of customers when Crossrail runs services to Heathrow in about five years time.

But he refuted a question it could lead to the Express being closed, as says it is a profitable business for the airport and privately funded.

Greenfield added the £12 million rebranding of the service has paid dividends and business continues to grow, much faster than the cheaper Heathrow Connect.

The much talked about HS2 high-speed rail link project has divided opinion in UK society, and was also discussed by delegates.

HS2 communications director Paul Chapman, says HS2 would improve access to UK airports especially Birmingham Airport and Heathrow, while the line was all about ‘connectivity’.

Conference delegates also highlighted throughout the day, the importance that good quality and efficient rail links play in the growth of airports.

Darren Caplan, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, told them: “Developing air rail links benefits everyone and is a win, win for passengers and airports and rail.”

He urged the Airports Commission, who are due to publish a report next month on UK airport capacity, of the need for improved surface access and for transport decision-makers to have an integrated transport policy.

Caplan says: “We will see the depth the Airports Commission goes to improve surface access requirements – it is being talked about but lacks specificity.”

But Andrew Harrison, MD of London Stansted, warned: “Airports exist because of the region they serve.

“It is not about what the airport wants or what the rail links want. It is about what the region needs to grow."

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