Plans for a southern access rail link into Heathrow are stalling because the Department for Transport (DfT) is unable to agree track access arrangements, New Civil Engineer can reveal.
The chief executive of Heathrow Southern Railway Ltd (HSR Ltd) told New Civil Engineer that revenue risk attached to using the existing network is a major stumbling block to the project being taken forward with the DfT saying the scheme had “fallen short” of its requirements.
The HSR Ltd proposal involves building 13km of new track to provide a southern access route into Heathrow Airport.
But the line will tie into the existing network so HSR Ltd needs assurances its trains would have access to the existing tracks as these are already used by other train operators.
HSR Ltd chief executive Graham Cross said the scheme is prepared to take on risks connected to construction, resourcing and reliability, but not take the risk of being unable to use the existing rail network.
“On the risk allocation we’ve always been completely clear if you want to privately finance a piece of infrastructure you can do that on good value for money terms as long as you allocate risk sensibly,” said Cross.
Cross added that the guarantee it required from the government was not financial and that the scheme could be entirely funded by private backers.
“What we’re proposing is something which we know is realistic and financeable,” he said. “In theory we are asking the government to take usage risk, but that shouldn’t be a problem because they want a southern link to Heathrow.
“Surely if you want a link to Heathrow, you want trains to run over it.”
Cross said the project will find it difficult to raise further risk capital and could lose the backing of its investors if it fails to win government support.
To go forward Cross is now calling on the government to set out a timescale and process for which the ideas will be evaluated and taken forward.
“We are suggesting that what the DfT should be doing is launching an expressions of interest process perhaps in March and a proper competitive bidding process in June that would result in the identification of a preferred developer,” he said. “Then they could have the strength and status to go forward and raise further finance.”
In December last year the DfT rejected proposals for the Windsor Link Railway, an alternative Heathrow southern access rail proposal.
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