Plans to build a western rail link to Heathrow Airport have been delayed by several years due to the current financial situation.

The Western Rail Link to Heathrow (WRLTH) aims to create a direct link to Heathrow for rail passegers coming in from the western side. At the moment, they have to head into Paddington then back out again. Apart from making journey times much faster for people using rail links from the west, it would reduce congestion on the trains out of Paddington.

The rail link would have left the mainline at Langley near Slough, then run through a new tunnel to the existing station at Terminal 5, where two pre-built platforms are ready to be used.

Although the rail link is classified as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, funding for it is dependent on contributions from Heathrow Airport and the aviation industry in general. With air travel in the doldrums at the moment, they are not in a position to stump up the money.

The DfT has now asked Network Rail to change the planned Development Consent Order (DCO) submission of the application from winter 2021 to a potential winter 2022 submission, subject to a funding agreement. The DCO is just the first stage of several that need to be cleared before construction can start.

Originally slated to be completed by 2021, the £900 million railway link is now not expected to start construction until 2024, if it gets permission to be built.

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17 comments
  1. JMX says:

    Don’t understand why the western link is still being pursued over a southern link.

    A southern link could allow for direct trains between Heathrow and:
    – Woking
    – Guildford
    – Gatwick Airport (via Guildford)
    – Basingstoke
    – Southampton
    – Portsmouth
    – London Waterloo
    – Clapham Junction
    – Kingston
    – Richmond
    – Reading (via Bracknell)

    By comparison, a western rail link would create a connection between Heathrow and:
    – Reading

    Besides, Reading is already just 1 change from Heathrow at Hayes & Harlington or OOC, whereas passengers from Guildford or Gatwick, for example, have to travel through central London to get to Heathrow by rail. Either option could allow Crosscountry trains that terminate at Reading to continue to Heathrow.

    Another point is that services from further out (ie Bristol) won’t be diverted via Heathrow, passengers will be expected to change at Reading which both western and southern options offer). However, extending Heathrow Express and/or Crossrail services to Weybridge, Woking or Reading could reduce journey times into Waterloo significantly for commuters on the Windsor lines.

    • simhedges says:

      Reading, Bristol, Bath, Exeter, Cardiff, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Worcester, Penzance, Plymouth

  2. SteveP says:

    I suspect this added rail link was an “easy” option, on paper at least. Especially compared to access from the south. And there is another international airport down there, IIRC (got lost on the so-called “South Circular” once trying to find it)

    Like Crossrail, the funding often seems to follow the Stockbroker Belt, and Reading features prominently. And I suspect that once Crossrail actually operates, the reverse ferret at Paddington will remain the best way to get to Heathrow from the west. Business class travellers (spending someone else’s money) can make an easy connection to the HEX (which I assume will still be convenient but at a premium to Crossrail) and the unwashed masses can trundle their luggage down to the newer service

    • JMX says:

      Can’t see why it would be easier or cheaper though. It’s a 6.5km tunnel either way, either to Staines / Egham or to Langley. In my view, The reason the western extension is favoured is because Heathrow falls within the Western Study area, whereas a southern link would connect with the Wessex network, and Network Rail seem reluctant to connect them.

  3. E says:

    Is the major problem with the bus link between Reading and Heathrow the fact that passengers may say “Well, blow it, if I have to use a bus anyway I might as well take the direct coach service”?

    • Whiffin says:

      The two major problems with the bus from Reading to Heathrow are that it is ridiculously expensive and the journey time is unpredictable. If you don’t mind the extra change it’s often almost as quick to go via Hayes and Harlington and considerably cheaper.
      However, most people I know from Wales or the west of England either drive to Heathrow or get a National Express coach all the way.
      This western rail link should have been built 20 or 30 years ago and would have done a lot to reduce traffic on the M4. However, one would hope that the numbers of people flying reduces in future so this link is now hard to justify.

  4. Melvyn says:

    Given how Crossrail 2 has been kicked into the long grass I would have thought extension of Crossrail 1/ Elizabeth Line from Heathrow to SWR network would be a more viable option maybe like in Southeast London using overhead electrification and separate tracks which could cut across lines and eventually run onto branches designated for Crossrail 2 bringing them up to Crossrail standards re accessibility and ready for Crossrail 2 if that were to be built!

    The above extension would provide new links to the city and west end thus providing some of the benefits of Crossrail 2 helping to reduce congestion on SWR network into Waterloo.

  5. JMX says:

    Another thing of course is the connection to OOC for HS2. Heathrow Western link does nothing for this but Heathrow Southern could connect several major cities in the South (Southampton, Portsmouth, Guildford ect) with HS2 at OOC.

  6. Gwyn Owen says:

    All the people in the north need a link from Euston to Heathrow. This would relieve problem of getting hundreds of thousands of people taking a circuitous route by taxi to Paddington and then Heathrow Express

    • ianvisits says:

      That’s exactly what HS2 delivers.

    • ChrisC says:

      Those that are coming from the ‘North’ on HS2 then they are best off changing at OOC for LHR rather than go to Euston and backtrack.

      BTW there is a huge chunk of the North that won’t be connected to let alone get a sniff of HS2 so will still be arriving into London at St Pancras and King’s Cross where the vast majority of them get the picadilly line to King’s cross because it;s actually quciker than going to Paddington then getting the train from there.

      Or they will switch to the thameslink to farrindgon then to Cross Rail from there.

  7. Matt Tomlinson says:

    Much as I’d like to see it built, I suspect that the station at OOC and a quick interchange between mainline and Elizabeth Line removes much of the business case for Western Access.

  8. Mark WATKINSON says:

    As Manchester airport station illustrated in its conception with only a Manchester facing junction, the opposite side of the triangle, in this case the Western Rail Approach will allow all mainline traffic to add LHR as an enroute stop. This is of course provided capacity on the current link is upgraded to cope with Elizabethan and GWR traffic….plus British Airways could be persuaded to dip a toe with domestic trains utilizing the western approach to get to Birmingham, Manchester and the like

  9. tim williams says:

    Why not use the old west drayton staines branch ,its still open to Colnbrook and used for freight, double it up upgrade the track and signalling etc then a short tunnel under the main rds to link directly to the existing station.its not rocket science, and probably easier and faster than a new link from langley ,west drayton has a bay platform too than can be used for just such purposes and once was as had two branches running out of it ,one to staines west and the other to uxbridge vine st .

  10. Andrew Gwilt says:

    At least it would make journeys much more easier for passengers travelling to Heathrow Airport from the West of England, Wales and elsewhere without having to change trains at Reading and to use TfL Rail and change at Hayes & Harlington to get to Heathrow Airport. Or travelling all the way into London Paddington and to use Heathrow Express from Paddington to Heathrow Airport.

  11. Andrew Gwilt says:

    No wonder it’s been pushed back hence why the delays. But I still think it will happen.

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