Rail improvements ‘could unlock airport capacity’

Rail improvements ‘could unlock airport capacity’

Spare capacity at London’s main airports can be unlocked by improved rail links, extending the Oyster card ticketing system and cutting fares, the London Assembly is expected to say on Monday.

The pressure on capacity at Heathrow would be relieved if there was better rail access to other airports serving the capital.

The case is being made in a submission to the government’s Airports Commission, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Research commissioned by the assembly found that 47% of runway slots were available at Stansted, 51% at Luton and 12% at Gatwick — unlike Heathrow, which is 99% full.

But passengers were deterred from using these airports partly because of the reliability and cost of travelling to them by rail, with journeys to all of them dominated by cars and taxis.

The assembly’s transport group chairman Val Sahwcross is reported as saying in a letter to the commission: “Luton, Stansted and Gatwick all have spare airport capacity that might prove useful to determining the UK’s future aviation policy.

“However, transport seems to be a key barrier preventing passengers travelling to alternative airports.”

Shawcross reportedly added that the assembly had “heard that the Gatwick Express service is poor in comparison to other rail services”, with only 31% of Gatwick Express passengers saying the service was value for money in a Passenger Focus survey last year.

“Gatwick airport highlighted to us a fall in customers’ satisfaction, with growing complaints about poor accessibility and luggage capacity on the trains,” she said.

There were similar problems with rail connections to Stansted.

“Network Rail reported that the West Anglia main line is running at full capacity at peak times,” Shawcross said.

“Stansted airport told us that the reliability on the West­Anglia main line has become a significant concern, with one in six trains delayed by at least 10 minutes. The airport estimated that it could attract an additional 1.5 million passengers a year if rail journey times to central London were reduced from 45 minutes to 30 minutes.”

A simple way to boost rail travel to airports, she said, was to extend the Oyster card system to Gatwick and Stansted, ensuring that the airports were “integrated into the wider transport network”.

The assembly also called for airlines to “do more to inform their customers about rail travel” to deter unnecessary car journeys.

Shawcross called for “the development of a national strategy to realise improvements to surface transport access to all London airports”.

She said: “Prioritising rail projects that improve access to our major airports, extending Oyster card boundaries and better marketing are just some of the ways that could encourage passengers to use alternative airports.”


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