The FINANCIAL — Heathrow Express (‘HEx’) rail service has been preserved to at least 2028 under a new agreement announced on March 27.
This agreement, which confirms fast, non-stop rail connections for Heathrow passengers over the next decade, has been approved by the Department for Transport and will see Heathrow Airport retaining the commercial aspects including marketing, ticket pricing and revenue, while FirstGroup’s Great Western Railway (‘GWR’) subsidiary will run the operational aspects of the Heathrow Express service under a management contract from later this year.
As a result of this agreement, a new Heathrow Express Langley depot will no longer be needed. The depot would have been required to service trains because the HS2 building schedule requires HEx to vacate the Old Oak Common depot by the end of 2019, according to Heathrow.
Heathrow Airport will continue to own the HEx service, and will be responsible for managing rail stations at the airport. Passengers will also benefit from new ticket readers at Heathrow and Paddington, which will allow users of Heathrow Express and TfL Rail (soon to be Elizabeth line) to use pay as you go Oyster or a contactless device.
GWR will manage the introduction of a new, dedicated fleet of trains for the Heathrow Express service, which will be specially converted by December 2019 to provide first class carriages, high speed Wi-Fi, additional luggage racks and on-board entertainment. Until that time the HEx service will continue to be provided by the existing fleet of trains.
Building an integrated transport hub and ensuring at least 50% of Heathrow’s air passengers travel by public transport by 2030 is a priority for Heathrow.
This May, the initial phase of Heathrow Crossrail services will be introduced. From December 2019, and the full opening of the Elizabeth line, rail services to Heathrow will increase from 18 trains per hour today to at least 22 trains per hour. A train will depart Central London to Heathrow on average every two-and-a-half minutes, including:
12 Piccadilly Line trains per hour – 6 trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 4 and 6 trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 5
6 Elizabeth line trains per hour – 4 trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 4 and 2 trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 5
4 Heathrow Express trains per hour – all trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 5
Heathrow, the DfT, TfL and Network Rail are also conducting a joint feasibility study into increasing the frequency of the Elizabeth line service to 8 trains an hour by the mid-2020s.
As part of the arrangements, the Department for Transport will progress the development of the proposed new western and southern rail links to Heathrow. These new links would make it quicker and easier for people from the across the south and west of England, and south Wales, to get to the airport.
Rail Minister Jo Johnson said:
“We are investing in the biggest modernisation of the UK rail network since Victorian times and improving the provision and frequency of rail services to Heathrow is crucial to our plans.
“New western and southern rail links to Heathrow would make getting to the airport quicker and easier for holidaymakers and business travellers across the south west, south Wales and south of England, as well as helping connect UK exporters to new international markets.”
Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said:
“This agreement secures convenient and reliable public transport journeys to Heathrow in this decade and beyond. We have ambitious plans to transform rail journeys into the airport, and our passengers will reap the benefits of having Heathrow at the heart of an integrated, sustainable transport network.”
FirstGroup Chief Executive Tim O’Toole said:
“Today’s agreement demonstrates the transport industry working in partnership for the benefit of passengers, allowing fast and convenient connections to continue on this crucial airport link. We are an experienced rail operator with a strong track record in delivering customer improvements, and through this management contract we look forward to building on this operational expertise, as we work with Heathrow to bring in a dedicated fleet of high-specification trains that will help keep people moving and communities prospering in the future.”