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£170M southern rail link to Heathrow gets go-ahead

SOUTH LONDON looks set to get a rapid rail route to Heathrow Airport after Railtrack, airport operator BAA and British Airways signed a memorandum of understanding this week to press ahead with a new £170M link.

The scheme, dubbed Airtrack, will build on existing train routes into London from the south west. It will involve construction of a new 3km rail spur from Staines, south of Heathrow, on derelict railway land. Routes approaching and through the airport are expected to be in tunnel.

Train journeys to Heathrow from the south will be revolutionised as passengers will no longer have to travel via central London. Journey times will be 22 minutes from Clapham, 30 minutes from Waterloo and 42 minutes from Basingstoke.

However, no dates have yet been given for the start of services. The memorandum of understanding simply commits the three organisations to developing the routes ahead of a Transport & Works Act application.

Airtrack is anticipated to link up with the Heathrow Express route to provide routes through the airport to north London. But this would depend on BAA getting the go-ahead for Terminal 5.

The announcement comes just weeks after BAA revealed that its plans to extend the HEX service to St Pancras had been delayed for five years while Railtrack concentrated on its options to run part of London's Underground (NCE 5/12 August).

As a result, BAA is keen to press ahead with Airtrack as an alternative way to meet its goal of bringing 50% of passengers to Heathrow by public transport. The figure is currently around 34%.

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