The Mayor of London has indicated his support for a southern rail link to Heathrow Airport and suggested that there could be progress on getting something started.

(c) HSRL

Although Heathrow is very accessible by rail from the north and the east, plans to improve rail access from the west were put on hold due to the pandemic, and plans to improve access from the south have been talked about for several decades.

It currently takes around 2 hours to reach Heathrow by rail from Guildford, or 45 minutes by car – and so the argument put forward is that rail upgrades would help reduce car use. Unsurprisingly, barely a fifth of people heading to Heathrow from the southwest use public transport.

One of the difficulties of rail upgrades is that they can’t easily be bolted onto existing lines which are already packed full, but also due to the high number of level crossings in the south-west region, more trains would mean more delays for road users.

A number of proposals over the past 20 years have attempted to square this particular circle without success.

In a recent Mayor’s Question Time, Caroline Pidgeon AM asked the Mayor, Sadiq Khan if he supports the Southern Access to Heathrow Airport project and what discussions he has had with the Government and the private sector about this project?

In a written answer the Mayor said that he welcomes “the useful role that a Southern Rail Link to Heathrow could play in supporting a shift to sustainable modes, while transforming access to Heathrow Airport for passengers and staff from South London, Surrey and Hampshire.”

He added that “The Greater London Authority and Transport for London maintain regular dialogue with a broad range of interested stakeholders as we look to resolve the issues which have obstructed progress to date, while ensuring that any scheme meets the needs of Londoners and does not impact the reliable operation of the railway network.”

More intriguingly, the written response added that he is “aware that a number of factors coming together in recent months have increased the prospects of a scheme moving forward.”

What those factors might be is not elaborated on.

The lobbying group, Heathrow Southern Railway (HSRL) has been proposing a partially tunneled link which would avoid many of the level crossing problems that have prevented previous schemes from getting started.

When building an underground railway, one of the largest costs isn’t the tunnel – it’s the railway station. Fortunately, when Terminal 5 was built, it included two additional, and still empty platforms for future expansion. That will help to reduce the overall cost of a southern rail link, if they go for the tunnel option.

The rail journey times projected by HSRL would be 19 minutes from Woking to Heathrow, 29 minutes from Guildford to Heathrow and 6 minutes from Staines to Heathrow.

The Mayor’s London Plan, published in December 2020, notes that both the southern and the paused western rail links will be needed if Heathrow Airport builds its third runway, although the same report says that the Mayor will oppose the expansion if it increases environmental harm or negative public health impacts.


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  1. Maurice Reed says:

    It’s a no-brainer. Good that they had the foresight to put the additional platforms in at T5 with these links in mind.

    • Brian Butterworth says:

      Not to mention the old, disused Staines to West Drayton via Colnbrooke branch line just sitting there!

    • ianVisits says:

      The junction at Staines isn’t available, and for the cost of turning a footpath back into a railway, and then tunnelling the last mile – might as well just build a decent tunnel.

  2. ChrisC says:

    Of course all the world and their significant other will want lots of stations on any new line which will (a) increase the cost significantly and (b) increase journey times.

    But would there be a case for having a station linked to a massive car park on the route with access to the M25?

  3. Keith says:

    I wonder if they’ll be tempted to extend the Heathrow (T5) branch of the Elizabeth line down to Staines. This might then allow some people coming from the West to change for the Elizabeth line, instead of going via Clapham Junction.

    • C.Bramley says:

      That might mean changing the current station underground, but would probably provide more frequent service. If you look at the map, they planning to be able to have South Western trains entering Heathrow though anyway, and then maybe turnback and go stained to reach capital

    • C.Bramley says:

      Of you mean from Windsor, there’s another line from there that joins up with GWR West main line, which you can already change for the lizzy line 🙂 Would love to finally see this project progress!

    • ChrisC says:

      The T5 branch is what HAL built.

      Lizzie built nothing at LHR – she uses the HAL infrastructure

  4. D says:

    Probably should have an eastern access rail route from Gatwick towards Tonbridge and Ashford (Kent). Just a thought considering we are talking rail accesses to airports.

  5. MilesT says:

    In my opinion, the great missed opportunity with HS2 was not reconsidering the future of airports in the southeast of England; and using HS2 as a catalyst to build a new greenfield airport on-route. I would suggest the location could have been Bucks/Warks borders, to replace Heathrow, Birmingham and draw traffic away from Luton, Stansted, Coventry (freight), Manchester/Liverpool, and maybe even further away. Recognising the need of a major efficient airport for England, not just London

    Yes a sort of re-run of the Roskill Commission analysis of Cublington, but I think a little closer to Birmingham to allow better service to Midlands locations.

    Complementary road improvements as well (maybe as large park & rides near existing motorways with onwards HS2 or dedicated rail service)

    • alistair twin says:

      nobody is building a new airport, not a big one at any rate. They just don’t work unless you are planning on closing and moving heathrow…. and that’s not happening.

      Serious capacity needs serious interconnected flights both long and short-haul and you can’t just click your fingers and create this. it’s a chicken and egg problem.

      and if they ARE going to do this, then adding a station on the WCML will be a trivial addition to the costs.

      Birmingham airport is actually quicker to get to for a lot of londoners than standsted or gatwick. better to expand that.

  6. Brian Wood says:

    What is this to do with the Mayor of London, or those who he represents? Staines, Ashford and Langley are all outside the Greater London boundary. Who will pay for this?

    • ianVisits says:

      Heathrow Airport is inside Greater London.

    • Neil H says:

      Agree totally.
      The Mayor of LONDON should have no influence on what happens in other “counties”. These areas are suffering because of his ULEZ that affects all surrounding areas, without any benefits such as scrappage.

    • a says:

      the ULEZ only affects those driving into london, which use its roads and economy without paying council tax. it would be overreach to deny control over london roads because it might hurt the feelings of the kentish

  7. Neil H says:

    Only parts of Heathrow are in London boroughs.
    Much is in Surrey or probably Slough (although being inside the M25 confuses many people).

  8. Liz Brereton says:

    There needs to be a line going from South London which doesn’t have easy access to the tube. I live in East Croydon and its always been a long journey whichever way one goes apart from X26 bus route which takes up to 2 hours and only goes every 1/2hr but understand its been upgraded to a super loop bus route now. Obviously I try to fly from Gatwick if possible but frequently holiday companies, airlines & specific destinations use Heathrow.

    There needs to be far more connection between airports and train companies. If people have an early flight often the trains don’t start early enough bearing in mind that one needs to be at the airport 2-3 hours before take off which means parking the car at the airport, taking a taxi or staying at an airport hotel. None of which are ideal.

    • a says:

      this is of course counting on the gatwick trains running, which can be a slim chance coming from sussex and beyond 🥲

  9. Tom says:

    Elephant in the room – when will it be possible to get from the North or the Midlands, to Heathrow, without TWO train changes (for me, into Euston then change at Tottenham Court Road or Leicester Square)? I live 40 minutes from Manchester Airport, but can’t fly direct to my destination from there, and I live ten minutes from a mainline railway station and (as above) can’t get to Heathrow without mucking about in Central London.

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