Monday, 3 March 2008

AirTrack consultation

BAA have opened their consultation on AirTrack, the plan to link Heathrow into the South West Trains network, with services to Reading, Guildford and London Waterloo. I'd always had it down as a "we'll build it one day" type project, but it's starting to look like they might be serious.

The elements of this scheme are:
  • fitting out two platforms at the Terminal 5 station which has already been built tunnelling between Terminal 5 and Hithermoor
  • constructing a new alignment across Stanwell moor and Staines moor
  • forming a junction with the Windsor line
  • building a new station at Staines High Street
  • linking the Windsor line to the Virginia Water line in Staines Town Centre (the chord)
  • remodelling the existing Staines station
Once this new rail infrastructure is in place, two trains per hour will operate in each direction to London Waterloo, Guildford and Reading. It is currently proposed that services will stop at: Clapham Junction, Richmond, Twickenham, Feltham, Woking, Chertsey, Wokingham, Bracknell, Staines Central and the new Staines High Street station.
There are all sorts of options and details in the brochure. The biggest surprise is BAA's "aspiration" to extend Heathrow Express services to Staines. The area is currently only served by stopping services to London, so this could be a big improvement if through journeys are allowed. They also say they're going to make the Airtrack tunnel overhead electrified, which will require dual voltage trains as the SWT network is all third rail.

Apart from the branch to Heathrow, the main bit of infrastructure needed is a new curve in Staines. Currently the line from Waterloo forks just west of Staines station into two branches, to Reading/Guildford and Windsow/Heathrow. The curve is needed for trains to get between those two branches. Here's a panorama of the area where it will be built, taken from the middle of the fork. The branches on the embankments either side.
Although this is right in the middle of Staines, the only thing that'll be overshadowed by the new line is the back of a shopping centre. This area is already cut off by the two existing embankments, so there are no pedestrians passing through. Although there are no buildings in the way, the line will cut through the car park ramp, and there are various options for how to replace it discussed in the consultation.


Al said...

Is there any feasibility of connecting to the line to Gatwick that way?

I'm guessing not, since that would require turning around at Clapham Junction, unless I'm misreading the map.

Nevertheless, I've often thought that Heathrow->Gatwick via Olympia would be feasible - taking the route the XC trains take. Or am I a loon?

Editor said...

Not that I can see. One of the points of the Waterloo services is to pick up interchange traffic at Richmond and Clapham Junction, which I think is the nearest you can get to a Gatwick service.

Anonymous said...

The chord at Staines existed until the 1970's, but was demolished to make way for the car park shown in the photo. Until 1916 there was a Staines High Street station, roughly where the new one is proposed. The existing Waterloo - Reading service must be underthreat in this plan?

Anonymous said...

The 2005 SRA Airtrack report had the Reading - Heathrow as well as Reading Waterloo, but without some peak additional Waterloo trains, which would be lost. The Reading end would probably need an extra platform (4c) and bridge widening - which IIRC is in the Reading remodelling anyway.

James said...

If the Hex is to be run to Staines, could Crossrail? Could make use of some of the trains currently planned to reverse at Paddington.

Editor said...

Anonymous 1: Yesh, I meant to mention that. Most of the route to Heathrow also previously existed, as the West Drayton-Staines West branch.

Anonymous 2: Oddly there's no mention of Reading station in the consultation. The planned rebuilding might already cover the extra capacity needed.

James: There isn't capacity for more Crossrail trains to run west of Paddington on the GWML, so going to Staines would require diverting an existing service of your choice. But it'd otherwise be physically possible.

THC said...

I wonder will one or all of these proposed services run on from Crossrail when it opens. Given the current thinking from DfT and others around the avoidance of performance pollution (as in the shelved - for now - proposals to extend beyond Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet) it seems unlikely at this moment in time, which would be an opportunity missed. Guildford to Shenfield via Heathrow and Crossrail? Mmmm...


Alan said...

I am pleased to see a furhter rail link proposed for Heathrow. But 2 things surprise me about these proposals.
1. That BAA wants to have trains wandering on a zig-zag course from Guildford in preference to more trains from Waterloo, which will serve a much bigger population in south London, taking interchanges into account.
2. The new Staines High Street station would be much more traveller friendly if it was an island platform, so that people from the Windsor line don't have to lug their csaes across a bridge or subway.

Anonymous said...

Another option is to run Airlink via Guildford and the North Downs line to Gatwick ---- obviously depends on North Downs electrification. Suspect the resulting service would be similar in timing to going via West London