Plans for a western rail link to Heathrow Aiport have been paused by Network Rail.

The planned Western Rail Link to Heathrow (WRLtH) is designed to make it much easier for people to the western side of the airport to arrive by train, as at the moment, visits can involve heading further into London, then taking a train back out to the airport.

Although the project had been delayed due to the pandemic, it was still under development.

Originally slated to be completed by 2021, the £900 million railway link had already had its construction start pushed back to 2024, and is now likely to be even later than that.

The minutes of a Network Rail board meeting that have just been published reveal that “the project was being brought to a controlled pause, to a point where it could be picked up again at some future point”

Mike Gallop, Western Route Director at Network Rail added that the “people working on this project were being reallocated to other projects.” and that “the DfT would periodically update its business case for WRLtH, reflecting any significant changes to both the aviation and rail sectors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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.

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11 comments
  1. HeathrowSouthern says:

    I still think the western link isn’t the right move. Passengers from Reading, Bristol, Swindon ect. will be able to get to Heathrow via a single change at Hayes or OOC once Crossrail is complete. You’re also not going to divert those long distance services via Heathrow anyway, so they’ll still require a change at Reading. Meanwhile, the journey from Southampton, Portsmouth, Woking or Guildford requires at least two changes and in most cases, travel via central London, which is significatly slower than going by car.

    A Heathrow Southern link would have all the same benefits as a western link (it could still connect to Reading via Bracknell- Crossrail services could be extended to Reading this way) but with significant added benefits including:
    – Direct services to Heathrow from the south-western network.
    – A direct route to Waterloo via Richmond could be created, better connecting south-west London to the airport and giving passengers an alternative route into London.
    – A direct route to Gatwick via Guildford could be created which could be very popular.
    – This would also mean a single change connection for places like Brighton, also meaning passengers don’t need to travel via central London.
    – Traffic on the M25 would be reduced by giving the south west a direct public transport connection to Heathrow.
    – Heathrow Express services could potentially be extended to give Woking, Basingstoke ect. a direct service to Paddington, easing pressure on the SWML and giving customers more choice (Waterloo isn’t a great terminus if you’re headed to West London).
    – If the Heathrow Express was extended, it could give places like Woking, Basingstoke, Southampton, Portsmouth ect. a direct service to Old Oak Common too, for HS2. Without this link, passengers would need to travel into Waterloo and get the train to Euston for HS2.

    • Paul says:

      This is how it was supposed to be, with Airtrack, but the people of Egham (and other places, but mainly Egham) spend very long periods waiting at level crossings already, and this led to understandable opposition that ultimately killed the proposal. Yes you can still run trains towards Waterloo and avoid Egham, but not only is this an already congested route where level crossings are also a problem, but a large part of the benefit of Southern access is to run trains down the branch to Weybridge, Woking and beyond.

      Solving the Egham level crossings problem is key to making a Southern access route work.

  2. Ron Chopper says:

    Agree with the above. The GWML already has a good connection to Heathrow. Southern link is what is really needed and would have so many benefits. I can’t believe it wasn’t done decades ago the platforms at terminal 5 are already there. It would connect the whole of the SWR network to Heathrow and to the Elizabeth line. What are they waiting for?

  3. Melvyn says:

    Given how Crossrail 2 has also been put into hibernation then extension of Crossrail/ Elizabeth Line from Heathrow into South West Trains network would make more sense and provide infrastructure ready for Crossrail 2 if that or a similar scheme goes ahead in the future.

  4. RICHARD SKELTON says:

    Why can’t the present junction on gw line to Paddington be adjusted to take eastbound as well as westbound traffic..much cheaper option

    • John Watkins says:

      Presumably because the intention is (was?) for trains to come from Reading, go via Heathrow and continue to Paddington?

    • Paul says:

      Simply it’s a factor of line capacity, both on the GWML and down the Heathrow Branch.
      Every train that runs down into a branch like this has to come out again.
      On the way into the branch every train from the West would have to run between trains going directly to Paddington *and* slot between the trains coming from Paddington.
      On the way out of the branch every train going West would have to run between the trains going *to* Paddington and slot between trains going directly West from Paddington.

      Add to that that within the branch you have 3 underground terminus platforms behind flat junctions in tunnels to turn around all these trains and send them back in the right order to achieve the above. There’s space for 2 more platforms at T5 but you’d still be constrained by flat junctions and it’s not realistic to expand this infrastructure immediately underneath a busy airport.

      So unless you drastically cut back the number of services both on the GWML and to Heathrow from Paddington, which would somewhat defeat the object, a “Stockley Western curve” can’t work.

      By adding a separate Western link you remove enough of these conflicts to make it work – trains ultimately going in opposite directions don’t have to share the route in and out of the branch, and the terminus capacity problem can go away, either because trains are running through or they’re reversing in opposite directions avoiding the junction conflicts.

      Additionally, the time penalty of a Heathrow loop train (i.e. a train running between Paddington and points West via Heathrow and Wrlth) can be +15 minutes compared to a train running directly on the mainline – and this matches the regular timetable pattern from Paddington – so if you ran a “via Heathrow” train every 15 mins, when each train returns to the mainline at the other end it neatly occupies the slot recently vacated by the following “via Heathrow” train.

  5. Martin says:

    A DLR type link from Denham / Uxbridge / Brunel Uni / Hillingdon Hospital / West Drayton / LHR T2/T3 / LHR T5 / LHR T4 / Feltham / Twickenham / Richmond would allow access from the north, west and south relieving the significant congestion on the M25… especially allowing rail access opportunities to LHR from all of South London

    • Heathrow southern says:

      I think the majority of heathrow-bound traffic on the southern part of the M25 is coming from Woking, Guildford, Portsmouth, Brighton, Gatwick ect.- areas that currently have little or no rail access to Heathrow but wouldn’t be helped by the scheme you propose. Twickenham and Richmond also aren’t particularly accessible from other parts of south London, but a heavy rail service from Heathrow to Waterloo via Clapham Junction would be much more useful for connecting south London. With Waterloo East, too, virtually every station in south London would be a single change away from Heathrow.

  6. Patti Taylor says:

    A light rail link to Heathrow from Staines has also been proposed, as, although our Spelthorne borough borders the airport and many of its workers live in the borough there is no direct link yet. It makes good sense to have that connection as being so close we are hampered by lack of ease of travel there, except by a motor vehicle.

  7. Paul Griffin says:

    I’ve read all the comments with interest. As a Buckinghamshire Councillor for The Ivers our communications / roads / traffic etc will be impacted very hard by this proposal and it has been resisted from Day 1. However as it is designated to have national importance and Network Rail have carte blanche to do what they like, all protests have fallen on deaf ears to date. I am very happy to support your alternative if it takes the pressure away from my community. Very glad I stopped by here. If anyone wants to provide further info that I can use to divert this project please do let me know at [email protected]

    Thank you,

    Paul

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