Getting to and from the airport does not have to be stressful. Dave Richardson looks at express rail links around the world
THOSE THOUGHTFUL PEOPLE who run the Arlanda Express airport rail service in Stockholm provide "sound showers" so passengers can listen to stories while they wait. You never have to wait for more than a few minutes, but if so, you might be amused by the tale of a moose attacking the train.
Imagine if they had that at Heathrow.
Many factors make rail the sensible option for getting to major airports, including speed, direct access to airport terminals, avoiding congested roads and car park charges, and causing less impact on the environment.
UK airports are surprisingly well served by rail links, considering most railways were built in the mid 1800s, and most airports during the second half of the 20th century. A new dedicated link to Glasgow Airport is due to open in 2010, but a similar link planned for Edinburgh has been abandoned.
Around Europe and the Far East, major new airports are unlikely to be built without bringing the train to the plane. A dedicated express link is the best option, and according to the International Air Rail Organisation (IARO), there are already 14 around the world, with several more planned.
Many other airports are served by local or regional services, and a few - mainly on the Continent - are part of an inter-city network. Others are served only by Metro lines or trams.
The route best known to UK travellers is the Heathrow Express, which has just celebrated the 10th anniversary of the 15-minute journey from London Paddington, and which was extended to Terminal 5 in March.
It is perceived as a world leader, though its excellent operating record comes at a price - £15.50 for a single ticket or £24.50 for those travelling in First Class. There is a £1 discount when booking online, but for those who board without a ticket, the cost increases to £17.50 one way for a standard fare.
This makes it one of the world's most expensive rail services. However, when compared with the average £50 taxi fare from Heathrow to Central London, it still remains a worthwhile option for many passengers - and infinitely preferable to the Piccadilly Line.
Gatwick Express has just survived a review, which could have seen it scrapped. The review aimed to provide more capacity on the London to Brighton line, and from December this year peak hour Gatwick Express services will be extended to or from Brighton. They will still operate non-stop between Gatwick and London Victoria, but airport passengers will share with commuters during peak hours. According to IARO's director-general Andrew Sharp, this is not a good idea: "Airport travellers have a lot of luggage and don't know where they're going - commuters tend to be impatient."
Convenience and reliability, he says, rather than speed, are key to establishing a successful airport rail link. The British airport with the highest percentage of passengers coming by rail - over 50 per cent - is London City, served by the Docklands Light Railway.
In-town check-in is not vital either, says Sharp - a feature of Heathrow Express that didn't survive. US carriers pulled out after 9/11 due to the perceived security risk, followed by BA. That just left Star Alliance carriers, and made a Paddington check-in unviable.
Other in-town check-in facilities have been much more successful, used by 20 per cent of passengers on the Hong Kong Airport Express.
Not all major new airports have an express rail link. Sharp says: "In the US there is no tradition of using rail, but airports may have low-quality, multi-stop Metro systems that business travellers don't want to use."
A prestige service like the Gatwick Express, however, is seen as a big plus by airlines, some of which offer free tickets to their premium class passengers.
Booking air and rail services together can save hassle, and is becoming more widely available. Airport Express, the marketing alliance covering the Heathrow and Gatwick services, has agreements with 15 airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, Flybe, SAS and Emirates, with some - including easyJet - selling tickets in-flight.
Heathrow Express has just introduced e-ticketing, with passengers booking online and receiving a barcode which can be printed or scanned from a mobile phone. By July both services will also be bookable on the Amadeus GDS, a move welcomed by TMCs.
Special events can often be the spur for establishing an airport rail link. China hopes to have one to Beijing Capital Airport open in time for the Olympic Games in August, while Vancouver is doing the same for the Winter Olympics in 2010.
Both Sydney and the new Athens Airport had dedicated rail links in place before hosting the Olympics in 2000 and 2004 respectively, while Delhi airport plans a rail service in time for the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
North Star Consulting, run by ex-Heathrow Express management, is promoting airport rail links around the world and has 15 "golden rules". Most of these are obvious, including dedicated high-speed services at high frequency, and clear signage.
But it also promotes the human factor, including highly trained staff.
North Star director Richard Brown says: "The two links which come closest to our ideals are Hong Kong and the Arlanda Express in Stockholm.
"Hong Kong also provides platform staff to help with luggage, and in-town check-in is a great convenience.
"There are plans for rail links at many airports around the world, including Sao Paulo in Brazil. The airport is only 31km from the city centre, but a taxi takes two hours, so a rail link will transform it."
The bigger picture of airport rail links is to offer fast inter-city journeys, which could replace air services in future, as Brazil plans between Sao Paulo airport and Rio de Janeiro.
This already exists in Europe, where major airports with inter-city rail links include Frankfurt, Paris CDG, Lyon, Amsterdam, Zurich and Geneva. The AIRail service operated by Germany's Deutsche Bahn and Lufthansa includes check-in at the station at Cologne and Stuttgart, before passengers join the ICE highspeed service for Frankfurt Airport.
Could the same happen in Britain? Maybe in the long term. Heathrow might gain a westbound rail link to serve cities such as Bristol and Birmingham, although the prospect of linking it with Eurostar looks remote.
But one day, if environmental concerns and the cost of fuel threaten the future of shorthaul flights, airport rail links may form a vital part of an integrated transport network.
|Rail links to UK airports|
Trains depart Paddington every 15 minutes, reaching Heathrow Central in 15 minutes and taking another six minutes to reach Terminal 5.
Since March this year, Terminal 4 passengers have to change at Heathrow Central on to Heathrow Connect, the stopping service from Paddington.
Trains depart Victoria every 15 minutes, for the 30 minute journey to the South Terminal.
From December 2008 peak hour trains will also serve Brighton.
Gatwick is also served by several other rail operators connecting Victoria and the south coast, the City, Luton and Bedford.
Stansted Express operates every 15 minutes. It takes 46 minutes for the 34-mile trip, including a stop at Tottenham Hale for interchange with London Underground.
Stansted is also served by Arriva from Birmingham, Leicester and Cambridge.
Luton Airport Parkway has trains connecting London, the south coast, East Midlands and Sheffi eld, with a bus link (10 minutes) to the airport.
DLR trains operate every few minutes to the City.
International station has a fast transit system to the airport, taking a couple of minutes. It is served by trains from the Midlands, London, the North and the south coast.
The airport's own station has departures every few minutes to Manchester Piccadilly, and services from throughout the North West, the North East, Crewe and (since December 2007) Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Adjacent Airport Parkway station at Eastleigh has trains to Southampton Central, London, Bournemouth, the Midlands and the North.
The airport station serves Glasgow Central and Ayrshire.
Trains operate to the city, Manchester and Birmingham, via a bus link to South Parkway station.
Served by a bus link from Rhoose station, with hourly trains from the city.
A new Parkway station opens in December near junction 24 of the M1, with a bus link to the airport. It will be served by trains from the East Midlands and London.
|Airport express rail links worldwide|
The Arlanda Express runs six times an hour and takes 20 minutes for the 38 km journey.
If it is more than two minutes late travellers are offered another ticket.
Cost: 220 SEK (£19).
The Flytoget Airport Express takes you from Gardermoen Airport to Oslo Central Station (51 km) in 19 minutes every 10 minutes.
Cost: NOK 160 (£16).
The Malpensa Express connects Cadorna station with Malpensa Airport (46 km) every 30 minutes, taking about 40 minutes.
Cost: €11 (£9).
The Airport Express runs every 12 minutes. The 35 km journey to the city takes 24 minutes. AsiaWorld-Expo is a one-minute ride from the Airport Station.
Cost: HK$60 (£4).
The Maglev train covers the 30 km between Pudong International Airport and the Lujiazui financial district in just over seven minutes.
Cost: 50 yuan (£4).
The Narita Express takes 53 minutes to cover 66 km and runs very 30 minutes in peak hours.
Cost: 2,770 yen (£14).
The Haruka Express to Kansai International Airport takes about 45 minutes to cover 40 km.
Cost: 2,980 yen (£15).
The KLIA Ekspres takes 28 minutes to cover 50 km.
Cost: RM35 (£6).