Hong Kong based rail operator MTR is understood to be interested in joining the bid to build the proposed privately financed Heathrow Southern Rail link.
Speaking at a Westminster Forum on the future of UK rail, MTR chief executive Europe Jeremy Long said the company had “ideas for how to extend the route” and it was “looking closely about how to do more at Heathrow.”
Heathrow Southern Rail is a proposal for a 13km long stretch of new railway connecting the west end of Heathrow terminal 5 station, to a junction north of Chertsey, with a connection to the Windsor – Staines line. The new line would give a new connection into Heathrow Airport from the south and south west of England by linking into the rail existing network and reducing congestion on the surrounding roads.
New Civil Engineer understands MTR is looking to expand its infrastructure delivery arm in the UK and is responding to the government’s challenge of getting more involved in private sector funding of rail projects. Although Long stressed it was not formally involved at this time.
MTR was awarded the seven-year franchise for South Western Rail in March last year. The existing lines to Heathrow are included in the South Western Rail network.
Heathrow Southern Railway (HSR) executive director Graham Cross told New Civil Engineer it was looking for investors to help develop the next stage of the scheme but had not yet signed any formal agreements.
“We have had talks with a number of people,” said Cross. “Sometimes rail operators, sometimes constructors and sometimes financiers to test appetite for investment in the company in the next stage and we’ve had some quite positive responses. But we haven’t signed anyone up.”
When complete the line would be operated by HSR, but potential shareholders in the company could bring their expertise to the design, construction and operation of the line.
“I would see a strength in having a range of different investors in skillsets,” said Cross. “A potential operator would have a different range to a constructor to a designer, so it would help to make a well-balanced company with a range of different experiences and things they can bring.
“We want investors to bring money, but it’s very useful when they bring skills as well.”
Cross said on the HSR board it currently had a mix of experienced investors in infrastructure financing, railway, railway development and corporate financing. But he said there were gaps for a contractor and those with train operation experience.
HSR is now waiting for the Department for Transport (DfT) to publish its market led proposals report, which is anticipated to be published before Easter, before it makes any formal appointments. In the report the government is expected to set out its invitation to third party private investors to fund rail enhancement projects.
The new line could be privately financed pending getting green light from government. Last year, Aecom announced it was joining the team as part of its first venture into the design, build, finance and operate (DBFO) model in the UK.
MTR will also run the Crossrail franchise when it opens in December this year.