‘Next steps’ for Heathrow Southern Rail to be outlined this summer

23 March 2021

Signs of movement after 3 years

News might come in the summer on plans to link Guildford by Rail to Heathrow.  Angela Richardson MP for Guildford has via a written question in Paliament obtained some indication that after years of delay the Department of Transport (DfT) might be prepared to move on with considering the Heathrow Southern Access rail line. 

DfT have written that the department  “remains committed” to the proposed southern rail link to Heathrow Airport and will provide further information on the project’s next steps in the summer.  DfT have consistently for the last 2 - 3 years not said anything meaningful on the subject.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris emphasised the importance of the scheme “Government remains committed to Southern Access to Heathrow (SAtH)’s status as a ‘pathfinder’ project that can harness ideas and expertise from the private sector to fund, finance and deliver this scheme,” he said.

“The DfT intends to provide further guidance to the market regarding the proposed commercial direction and next steps, including the process for selection of a development partner, in summer 2021.”

When chosen, the development partner will be responsible for the raising the money to build the line, constructing, and testing it, and then operating it as part of the national rail network.

Project promoters such as Heathrow Southern Railway Ltd (HSRL) have been calling for more information on the selection process for the role and the associated commercial model for the past three years. Chris Stokes HSRL Chief Executive welcomed the news.

"Angela Richardson MP has secured from the government the most emphatic commitment we have seen since 2018 that the southern link to Heathrow will be a pathfinder scheme for private sector ideas and expertise in funding, finance and delivery,” he said.

“HSRL continues to stand ready to mobilise that expertise and transform surface access to Heathrow for passengers and staff from the south of England and south London, assisting civil aviation to become more sustainable in the post-pandemic world.”

HSRL's proposal involves building 10km of rail infrastructure from the west end of the existing Terminal 5 station, mainly in tunnel, to connect to the existing rail network near Staines and Virginia Water.

It will enable electric trains to operate between Heathrow Airport and London’s Waterloo terminus via Clapham Junction, also provide services via Woking to Guildford and Basingstoke.

An additional support for the rail link has come from the scheme's inclusion in the Mayor of London’s Spatial Development Strategy for Greater London which was published in February 2021

The need for a southern rail link has been identified as having a positive business case even without a 3rd runway being built.  Obviously there is a a massive reduction in airline patronage as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic but air traffic will increase potentailly achieving 2019 levels by 2025/6.  A southern rail link to Heathrow by increasing the proportion of customers and airport staff accessing Heathrow by rail will be essential if congestion and air quality issues in south west London and Surrey are to be addressed.

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