Although Heathrow Airport has a couple of railway links to central London, they weren’t necessarily the ones that we could have ended up with.
Here are some of the never built railways that could have linked the airport to London.
Heathrow to Gatwick
In September 1996, a rail link would have tied the two airports together via central London. It was just one of a number of options being looked at, but the one that caught the most attention. The idea was to reuse existing rail lines and put in a few new junctions so that trains could be able to loop around what is now the London Overground and onto the Thameslink line.
The £88 million proposal would have seen the existing Gatwick Express service extended to run from King’s Cross through West Hampstead and Ealing, before then joining the new railway being built for the Heathrow Express.
Virgin Train’s City-Heathrow link
In October 1996, jumping onto the bandwagon came Richard Branson with his own £50 million rail proposal.
This would have also reused the existing railway between Acton and West Hamstead, then joining up with the Thameslink tracks to run a service to Moorgate in the City. The line would have made use of the little used Dudding Hill tracks, which are today still mainly used for rail freight, although there is a campaign to open it up to passenger services.
At the time the scheme looked more than viable, as Crossrail had jus been cancelled. Today, had the link been built, it would probably be facing an uncertain future with Crossrail at Moorgate, and increasing demands for local services on the London Overground tracks that Virgin would have been using.
Heathrow to St Pancras
In December 1996, BAA, the company that owns Heathrow Airport announced plans for a £30 million rail link to St Pancras Station, that was due to open in 1999.
The service would have worked in tandem with the Heathrow Express service, with trains running four times per hour and trips taking around 35 minutes, stopping at three stations enroute. It would have also had the ability to link up with the Eurostar lines at St Pancras.
The service would have made use of existing railway tracks that are now part of the London Overground to run from Acton around to St Pancras.
There was also talk of an option to head northwards at West Hampstead, creating a rail link from Heathrow to Manchester and Birmingham via Watford Junction.
The announcement, just weeks after the Virgin plans were shown off did not go down well with Richard Branson, who was said at the time to be furious.
This was a proposed service that would have run south of the airport creating links to Waterloo Station, but also heading out the other way to Reading and Guildford.
The railway emerged out of the Terminal 5 development plans, which included a large underground railway station, which was built, but only part of it put into use for the London Underground and Heathrow Express services.
Two platforms remain unused to this day, as they were to be for the Airtrack railway link.
As with other rail link plans, this was mainly a case of reusing existing railways and joining up the gaps, and a tunnel to finish the final stretch to the airport. The main concern was that much of the railway south of the airport does not run on viaducts above the ground, and has a large number of level crossings where road traffic can be delayed. Annoying at the moment, but with even more trains passing through on Airtrack, it was felt that some level crossings would be almost permanently closed to road traffic.
In 2009, the airport submitted a request to the government for authorisation for the rail link, but the following year, the government withdrew permission citing, the state of government finances and the unlikely ability to fund it’s side of the rail upgrades.
At the moment, the plan is dormant, although there is now a rival scheme, Heathrrow Southern Railway seeking to resurrect a version of the Airtrack scheme. Network Rail is also working on a scheme to link Terminal 5 to Reading via a new railway.
The Windsor Link
A scheme to link two separate stations in Windsor town centre has been enlarged to include a rail link to Heathrow Airport.
It could have created a line from Slough, down to Windsor, then running over existing tracks to Waterloo — but adding a new spur into Heathrow Airport via Terminal 5.
Never forget the monorail.
The Times, 19th Sept 1996
The Times, 2nd Oct 1996
The Times, 24th Dec 1996