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NEWS Last modified on December 7, 2016

Time is right for rapid rail link to London Luton Airport

In his Autumn Statement last month, UK Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, rightly emphasised that “small investments can offer big wins”, writes London Luton Airport CEO, Nick Barton.

However, on the issue of airport capacity, thus far government has focused almost exclusively on the big question of where to site a new runway. 

Yet there are many smaller investments that would deliver big wins in increasing capacity in a much shorter timescale.

A lack of fast, frequent rail links is currently the major limiting factor preventing other London airports meeting rapidly increasing passenger demand.
Luton tower
In the case of London Luton Airport (LLA), however, the upcoming East Midlands rail refranchising process is a chance to change that.

According to projections from the Department for Transport (DfT), demand for air travel will more than double by 2050.

A single runway can absorb only a fraction of this increase in passengers. In any case, it will take at least 15 years for a new runway to become operational.

That’s why both the Airports Commission and the Transport Select Committee have said it is imperative that other airports can make the most of their existing capacity. 
New Boarding Pier B
LLA has seen 32 consecutive months of passenger growth. With our £110 million transformation plan we will increase passenger numbers by 50% to 18 million people per year between 2016 and 2020. 

Yet despite this growth, LLA is the only London airport without an express-style rail service.

Major businesses, including easyJet, business groups including the CBI, FSB and Chamber of Commerce and politicians including Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald, and Louise Elman, MP, vhair of the Transport Select Committee, have all supported calls for this to change.

Introducing four fast trains per hour to Luton Airport Parkway (LAP) as part of the new East Midlands rail franchise will enable easier access to the airport for thousands of passengers.

Not only that, but the changes would boost rail fare revenues by up to £110 million per year and save thousands of tonnes of CO2 by removing cars travelling to the airport from the road.

Most strikingly, an express-style service with four fast trains could be introduced through timetable change alone as part of the refranchising process. It would require no extra capital investment. 
Terminal Front
The airport and local council are already doing their bit. Luton Borough Council have confirmed plans to build a £200 million light rail link between Luton Airport Parkway and the terminal, replacing the existing shuttle bus.

This will not only make the journey easier for passengers, but also much quicker. The total journey time to and from central London will fall to less than 30 minutes, less time than it takes to reach Gatwick or Stansted.

A new runway in the UK is welcome in enabling the surge in demand for air travel to be met. Yet, it is far from a complete solution to deliver the airport capacity the country needs.

Improving rail access to UK airports will not only help increase capacity, but will also help foster economic growth and regional development.

There can’t be many projects that would achieve these three vital national policy goals at no cost to the taxpayer.
Luton Airport take off
If the government is looking for small changes that can deliver big wins, introducing four fast trains to LLA as part of the new East Midlands rail franchise would be a good starting point. 

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