UK government needs to rethink HS2 Heathrow link

The UK needs to act quickly and integrate its rail and air strategies by adding Heathrow to the HS2 route plan, a new parliamentary report has urged.

Britain’s plans for high-speed rail and its hub airport strategy should not be developed independently of one another but rather form part of a wider transport masterplan, concluded the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on UK Integrated Transport Strategy study.

By placing Heathrow at the centre of the UK’s rail network, HS2 could not only bring the country’s major cities closer together, it could bring regional businesses within reach of global markets.

The report refers to examples of successful airport rail links in Germany and France.Specifically, it cites high-speed lines connecting Frankfurt International Airport and Paris Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG) Airport that connect directly to through lines without relying on branch lines or loops.

The report said: “The UK has a unique opportunity to consider an integrated approach to its air and rail strategies. This is particularly important in view of the UK’s peripheral offshore location in Europe, and the country’s dependence on global access for its future competitiveness in an increasingly connected world.”

The report also points to HS2 estimates that an alternative route via Heathrow would actually be cheaper, with marginally longer journey times being the only drawback.

For the actual passengers using the service, rail travel expert Mark Smith – The Man in Seat 61 – believes that there is one very practical flaw that is overlooked when linking high-speed links to airports.

“The typical question is ‘my flight from JFK lands at CDG at 7.30am at what time can I book my non-refundable, miss-it-and-I’m-screwed rail ticket on the TGV from Charles-de-Gaulle to Avignon, Marseille, Nice wherever’ and of course the answer they get is your PREM ticket is non-refundable non-changeable.

“You have to allow four hours between the flight landing and the train going because otherwise the flight might be an hour late, it might take ages to get your baggage off, which begs the question why did we bother building a high-speed rail network to the airport? Why didn’t we just buy a cheap and cheerful slow rail link and let people turn up, buy a ticket and hop on the next train.”