Luton Airport is currently building a new light rail link, and they’ve released a flythrough of the construction so far.

At the moment, the link between the airport and the nearest railway station, Luton Airport Parkway is by a shuttle bus, but a new rail link with a novel power system will link the two next year.

Journey times will be cut to just 4 minutes.

The trains will be pulled along by a cable system, where the cable runs along the tracks and is kept constantly rotating, while the train carriages grab and release the cable to move and stop as needed.

Although there have been cable car railways in the past in the UK, the Luton Airport site will be the second modern application, after Birmingham Airport.

At the heart of the construction are the steel guide rails, now fully installed and comprising 8km of running rails secured with more than 5,700 post-drill anchors.

The propulsion system at DART’s Parkway station will be powered by two 3.8m diameter drive wheels weighing around 12 tonnes each. The 4km cables wrap around drums weighing 23 tonnes each, with the gearbox assembly units tipping the scales at an additional nine tonnes.

The light-rail’s cable-hauled propulsion system is already in place, and the carriages are now being lifted onto the guide rails. The trains will then shortly be seen moving for the first time along the 2.1km route between the terminal and Luton Airport Parkway station, on their way to the maintenance units for works to prepare them for service.

Trains under construction (c) London Luton Airport

The main contractors for the project are Volker Fitzpatrick-Kier (VFK) and Austria based Doppelmayr Cable Car. Meanwhile, Network Rail continues to work on the construction of the new overbridge, escalators and canopies at Luton Airport Parkway station.

Scheduled to open during 2022, ongoing restrictions permitting, it will enable rail journeys between the airport and St Pancras International of just 30 minutes.

You can be fairly certain that a lot of train geeks will make a trip to Luton when it opens, just to ride the UK’s second cable-hauled automatic people mover.

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14 comments
  1. Andrew Gwilt says:

    I think it is good to have a new automated cable railway that will replace the shuttle buses operating to & from Luton Airport Parkway station to Luton Airport main terminal. Cutting journey times and providing a much easier way to get to London Luton Airport. I like the idea of it.

  2. L. GROVES says:

    The underground ‘Clockwork orrange’ in Glasgow opened 1896 and was orriginally a cable powered line. It only became electrified in 1935.

  3. Sean says:

    This combined with the Luton express service they announced the other week will definitely make the airport a lot more attractive. Essentially it won’t be different to travelling to Gatwick North from Victoria, aside from the extra charge for the shuttle if you forget to add it to your train ticket.

    I do think London’s National Rail ticket machines could do with making Luton Airport tickets (as opposed to Parkway) a bit more obvious, the default perhaps, or change the name on the machines to Luton A Parkway or something to make the Parkway ticket less of an option. It’s nasty to sting tourists with an added charge for the shuttle when they arrive at Parkway when it really isn’t their fault that there’s a difference between tickets for Luton Airport and Luton Airport Parkway.

  4. Andrew Long says:

    London Luton Airport (& Luton) have deluded themselves by praising the new EMR “Corby Electric” service from May, which indeed will give them two fast trains per hour to/from London St. Pancras international.
    However, the downside is no longer any direct inter-city services along the Midland Main line to/from stations in the east midlands and Sheffield. The same applies at Bedford.
    So after over 150 years of the Midland main line, the loss of through train services from major towns is deplorable! And who will gain – the M1 motorway.
    Sadly also no electrification of the MML north of Kettering, just Aurora bi-modes!

  5. MilesT says:

    Essentially a modern version of the San Francisco cable car system–with an automatic machine replacing the task of the “grip man”.

  6. David Fursdon says:

    Can we have information for distribution around Corby please
    I am a rail user/campaigner Thank you

  7. Terry O'Grady says:

    It still takes forever to l from Watford to Luton even though it’s only a few miles
    10:59
    ON TIME
    Watford Junction
    Platform 9
    10:59
    Watford Junction
    Platform 9
    24m
    11:23
    London Euston
    Platform 11
    11:23
    London Euston
    42m
    12:05
    London St Pancras International
    12:05
    London St Pancras International
    Platform 1 estimated
    21m
    12:26
    Luton Airport Parkway
    Platform 4

    • ianVisits says:

      So a journey by train between two towns without a direct train link is slower than a journey between two towns with a direct train — is not exactly a revelation.

  8. Richard Hopkins says:

    Pisa Airport and Railway Station have used such a system for several years. It works perfectly well.

  9. Chris Rogers says:

    Curious – what are the advantages? Euston was originally served by a cable hauled service, a while back they uncovered the original vaults.

    More ground-breaking at the time was the short-lived maglev in Brum.

    • Dave P says:

      The route between the railway station and the airport is quite steep in places. I imagine cable hauled is more reliable than electric motors in all weather.

  10. Tom Rainbow says:

    I’m afraid I’ll be in the geek queue…😁😁😁

  11. maria says:

    I live in luton and I am so ticked off with this – great the cable car and lovely the corby link ….. but WHY!!!?? must I get a train to London to get a train out of London … and go through Luton Airport Parkway where I Just came from …. to go north (Sheffield) on the EMR. It’s stupid, causing more congestion of people using London stations when not needed at peak times and making more people use cars on the M1!! so much for supporting services that support the environment ….. Worse of all …. who makes the decisions …. where can you complain…. we want a EMR train to stop at Luton Airport Parkway!! It shoots right through … its a main station next to the airport for goodness sake and people need to use it.

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