High-speed rail with a direct link to Heathrow is vital if the UK’s London hub is to restore its important regional links and compete effectively with its European counterparts, MPs were told today.
Speaking at a Transport Select Committee meeting on the proposed High Speed Rail network (HS2), Allan Gregory, Heathrow’s surface access director, said that the gateway would form a key component of the new system.
He said that a direct and effective connection to Heathrow is a “pre-requisite for achieving air/rail substitution”, and that high–speed rail linked to the airport has “the potential to create a properly integrated transport system”, ensuring the UK can compete with its European counterparts in terms of connectivity and its ability to deliver economic growth.
The effective integration of high-speed rail with air travel, as demonstrated in Europe, would enhance the UK’s international competitiveness and Heathrow’s contribution to the economy, according to the gateway.
However, Heathrow’s capacity constraints have resulted in the withdrawal of many domestic services to the airport in recent years.
According to Gregory, in the last 20 years there has been a 300% increase in journeys from UK regional airports to European hubs in order to connect to onward long-haul flights – this is coupled with a 25% decline in similar connections to Heathrow.
Meanwhile, in 1991 Heathrow served 23 UK airports. In 2011 that number has dropped to just six.
In contrast Amsterdam Schiphol currently serves 21 UK destinations and Paris Charles De Gaulle serves 14 airports.
Integrating Heathrow into a High Speed Rail network would help attract these passengers back to Heathrow bringing both economic and environmental benefits through improved domestic connectivity and a reduction in domestic and short haul flights.
Gregory said: “By combining the range of domestic destinations served by high–speed rail with the range of international destinations served by Heathrow – providing the right frequency of service and making the changes between the modes attractive – then it is more likely that the traveller from cities such as Manchester or Glasgow will choose to use a high–speed train to reach London, or connect with an international long haul flight at Heathrow, rather than a short haul flight to connect to an international long haul flight at a European Airport.”
The first phase of the proposed £32 billion High Speed 2 (HS2) project plans to link London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds however an extension to Heathrow is not planned until phase two of the project. The first trains wont reach Birmingham until 2026 and Leeds and Manchester until 2032-33.