A recent parliamentary debate on improving rail links to Heathrow Airport has agreed that such a rail link is a very good idea, but that it will need a lot more work to bring into existence.
Although Heathrow is very accessible by rail from the north and the east and will be easier from the west when a new rail link is built, at the moment, rail access from the south-west is very difficult.
It currently takes around 2 hours to reach Heathrow by rail from Guildford, or 45 minutes in the 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 south-west 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 means more delays for road users.
A number of proposals over the past 20 years have attempted to square this particular circle without success.
A tunnelled proposal being put forward by Heathrow Southern Railway was cited in the debate, noting that it avoids the busy level crossings at Egham, and could reduce journey times from Terminal 5 to Guildford to under 30 minutes — faster than the motor car.
Terminal 5’s rail station was built with two additional, and currently unused platforms. Although earmarked for the planned link towards Reading and Bristol, they should have enough capacity for a regular south-western rail link as well.
Although the government is supportive of improving rail links, they are working on a model based on working alongside the private sector to fund, finance and deliver this scheme.
Heathrow Southern Railway says that their tunnels proposal could be open by 2027 if work started now.