1 November 2022, London Marriott Hotel County Hall
21 November 2022, Hilton London Metropole
12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
A plan to extend the high-speed rail line to Heathrow ” connecting the airport to Paris with a 2h30min direct journey - is being drawn up by Arup, the engineering company which originally devised the Channel Tunnel route via Stratford.
The scheme has no official backing yet, and there are no details of timescales or costs, but if it becomes reality it will put extra pressure on airlines operating short-haul services.
"There is total logic in seeing how Heathrow can be connected to the national and international rail network. This is fundamental to the sustainable development of the airport and would be a significant step in shifting passengers from road to rail," said Mark Bostock, consultant at Arup.
"The basic plan is to extend the Channel Tunnel rail link west and north. We could serve Heathrow before going north to Birmingham and beyond.
”What this plan brings is connectivity - not only bringing the north and the Midlands on to the international high-speed rail network, but also bringing Heathrow within two and half hours of central Paris.
”Not to be forgotten is the opportunity this also provides for UK regional regeneration ” connecting the overheated Thames Valley and south Midlands with the growth areas of the Thames Gateway and Kent," said Bostock.
A direct high-speed rail link to Paris would put the squeeze on short-haul flights between the two capitals, but with Open Skies approaching in March an obvious solution presents itself in the form of a switch to lucrative transatlantic routes.
Air France and Delta have already announced four daily Heathrow flights from March ” to Los Angeles, Atlanta and two to New York ” at the expense of Air France Paris services, and Northwest and KLM start routes to Seattle, Detroit and Minneapolis between March and June.
Funding for a high-speed line would have to come from the Department for Transport (DfT) but it”s early days yet.
”We haven”t seen great detail of the Arup proposal but of course we”re interested in it ” however, with High-Speed 1 just opened, our immediate priority is to increase capacity on the rest of the rail network,” a DfT spokesman said.
”High-speed lines could be an option in future ” the idea for a London-West Midlands line may gain currency by 2020 for example ” but it will be a question of demand.”
A Network Rail spokesman also sounded unsure: ”Anything that adds capacity to the network is something we”d support, but the jury is still out whether funding would be better spent upgrading the current network.
”Our geography is so different to France”s, where the cities are more spread out so they have higher need for high-speed rail. By 2008 UK passengers should be able to do London to Birmingham in 1hr10 ” high-speed might reduce that to 50mins, so the question is whether that would be worth the money spent.”
But the director of Campaign for Better Transport, Jason Torrance, was bullish about the idea - ”If Britain is to compete with other European countries then our airports must become travel hubs where inter-connectivity between cities is done in the most sustainable way possible,” he said.
”At the moment you have a situation where people fly in to London from certain airports in the States, for example, and if they want to go up to Scotland they just change planes ” we think they should have a fast, reliable train route.
”High-speed rail will be essential for this country in future.”