"Better rail links are key to unlocking capacity" - by Nick Barton, CEO London Luton Airport
The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow doesn’t alter the fact that the expansion of airport capacity will remain one of the UK’s biggest challenges for the foreseeable future.
DfT projections say the demand for air travel will more than double by 2050. That’s a huge increase – significantly more than a single new runway can take when it is eventually built.
Deciding where to build new runways is only half the challenge. Additional capacity can only be realised if people can get to the airport in the first place.
There is a growing consensus, including from the Transport Select Committee, that rail links are a major limiting factor for capacity growth and improving rail travel to airports will temper the impending capacity crunch.
Importantly, in an uncertain economic period, improving rail links doesn’t have to mean new capital spending.
In our case, we’re asking the government to add a requirement to the new East Midlands rail franchise to increase the number of hourly fast trains stopping at Luton Airport Parkway from one to four, just through timetable change.
The current £110m redevelopment of LLA will grow the number of passengers by 50% to 18 million a year by 2020. Improving rail links will be a crucial part of our continued growth and success.
Alongside Luton Borough Council’s planned £200 million light rail link between Luton Airport Parkway and the terminal, the additional fast train services will make LLA one of the best-connected London airports with journey times of less than 30 minutes from central London.
And it’s not just our passengers that would benefit from improved rail links.
Introducing more fast trains could significantly increase rail revenue by up to £110 million at no cost to the rail operator or DfT. It would reduce traffic congestion by 70,000 journeys a year - saving 500 tonnes of CO2 – as the number of passengers travelling by train to the airport would double.
Alongside air capacity, a further government priority is to ensure transport infrastructure helps maintain the UK’s economic competitiveness; specifically creating better links between North and South and maximising the economic potential of the high-skill, high-employment Oxford-Cambridge corridor.
Luton sits at the heart of those two strategically important economic corridors and is where the UK transport system comes together through the airport, major train lines and the M1. The refranchising presents a huge opportunity to create an integrated end-to-end transport hub for the benefit of the UK and provide a huge boost to the Three Counties region.
We’ve had strong support for the introduction of four fast trains per hour from a host of national and local businesses and business groups, including easyJet, the CBI and FSB, as well as local MPs Gavin Shuker and Kelvin Hopkins, the Chair of the Transport Select Committee and the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport.
We hope the government continues to seriously consider making the introduction of an express-style service to LLA a reality.
A priority for the government must be enabling other airports to fulfil their potential to increase capacity in the near-term. Improving rail links is crucial to achieving that.