LONDON'S clogged motorways and over-burdened inner city-roads have prompted new investment in the rail infrastructure serving the capital's airports.
Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted now all have dedicated rail links, while Luton will soon have its own rail station and London City is keenly awaiting full opening of the Jubilee Line extension.
The BAA-owned Heathrow Express, operating from Paddington for the past year, now has a 27-desk check-in at the London rail hub - the world's largest city centre check-in facility.
In its first year, more than 4m passengers used the train and its facilities, which include television screens featuring twice-daily updates from BBC World News.
In the next three years, Heathrow Express expects around 1m passengers to check in annually at Paddington, according to chairman Alun Thomas. The check-in is open from 5am until 9pm
An average of 13,500 passengers use the train daily. Work is under way at Paddington to provide new shops, cafes and restaurants, extra seating and climate-controlled waiting areas.
From October, Gatwick will be served from Victoria by eight new-generation Gatwick Express trains, representing an investment of £50m. The first of these is currently on test.
Gatwick Express, part of the National Express group, has operated since 1984.A pioneer of rail franchising since 1993, it claims to carry 60% of Gatwick users travelling to and from central London.
"The new trains will have more luggage space and will use symbols and imagery associated with an airport for the benefit of international passengers," said head of marketing Roy Campbell.
The new eight-carriage trains will replace former Inter-city rolling stock, some of which is now 25 years old. Check-in facilities at Victoria station are expected by 2001.
The WAGN-operated Stansted Skytrain, introduced in 1991 when the present terminal was opened, is upgrading on-board service along the 37-mile route from Liverpool Street this autumn.
The Skytrain carries more than 5,000 passengers daily; the half-hour service is now supplemented at peak periods and WAGN plans to further improve overall frequency.
Luton Airport's own station - the £23m Luton Airport Parkway - will open this autumn, handling up to 10 trains an hour from central London.
Thameslink services will additionally link the new Railtrack-funded station via London Kings Cross to Gatwick airport and Brighton. There will also be easy access to the Midlands.
Completion of the Underground's Jubilee Line extension later this year will link London City airport with Waterloo and London Bridge stations - a shuttle bus will serve the airport from Canning Town station.
The Docklands Light Railway also has plans for an airport spur line from Canning Town by 2003. The route will be decided within the next few weeks. DLR now operates an airport bus link from its Canary Wharf station.
Elsewhere in the UK, Birmingham plans to replace the Maglev link from the airport to Birmingham International station by 2005 as part of the airport's 10-year development plan.
In Manchester, the £28m airport station, operational since 1993, is adding a platform to meet demand. The station is to be made into a transport interchange with the city's bus and tram system by 2005.
Heathrow Express: operates on dedicated line from London Paddington to Heathrow at 15min intervals from 5.10am until 11.40pm daily; journey time 15mins (20mins to/from Terminal 4). Express Class single £10, first class single £20.
Gatwick Express: operates from London Victoria to Gatwick station on the Brighton line at 15min intervals throughout the day and hourly after midnight; journey time 30mins. Standard single £10.20, first class single £16.
Stansted Skytrain: operates from London Liverpool Street to Stansted at 30min intervals from 5am until 11pm daily; journey time 41mins. Standard single £10.70, first class single £16.30.
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