Luton airport hatches plan for high speed London rail link

Luton airport hatches plan for high speed London rail link

Plans for a fast transit link is reportedly being hatched by Luton airport to give access to the centre of London within 20 minutes.

Passengers currently take a 20-minute direct train to Luton airport Parkway station but the total journey time to the airport can be more than doubled by having to change, wait and travel the last mile by bus.

This puts off many travellers despite Luton’s breadth of short-haul services offered by easyJet, Wizz Air and Ryanair.

Nick Barton, the former boss of Stansted who has been Luton’s chief executive since last winter, is working up plans to get the airport properly connected to the rail network.

“The bus service meets the basic criteria,” he told The Times. “The plan is to come up with a long-term solution. The options are around a mass passenger system which could be light rail or heavy [conventional] rail.

“We know the need. Connectivity is the priority. We know the future is to be an integrated part of the transport network.

“Davies [the commission on London airport expansion] is also about how the current airports maximise their capacity. We have the capacity and the challenge is how we get all these passengers here.”

The airport starts a £100 million project this week that would increase its passenger capacity by 50% to 18 million.

That follows a significant upgrade of part of its access problems with the reconstruction of a nearby stretch of the M1 and the creation of its own junction.

Luton handles more than 11 million passengers a year and at current double-digit growth rates could be at capacity within a year.

A ten-year, programme to increase aircraft runway access, the number of boarding piers, terminal space — including a doubling of shops — and a far larger security hall, has been accelerated and Barton aims to complete it by the end of this decade.

Expansion will strengthen his hand to persuade the likes of Norwegian and Vueling to move from Gatwick and Heathrow respectively, he claims.

But while the airport’s operators - Spanish-owned airport group Aena and Ardian private equity -  are funding the present construction programme, the question of who pays for a rail link is unresolved.

The airport’s freehold is owned by Luton borough council and Aena and Ardian’s operating concession expires in 2031.

“Knowing the structure of the ownership, the current capital investment is at our risk,” Barton said. “The ownership [and funding] of a rail link would have to be something we work out. But everyone knows a better link is in everyone’s interest.”

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