"Our aim is to make travelling to London Luton Airport by rail as fast, convenient and seamless as possible"

Posted on in News Archive

Ahead of the UK AirRail 2015 conference, airrail NEWS speaks with Nick Barton, CEO of London Luton Airport about surface access, improved rail connectivity, new technologies and challenges that come with them. 

- London Luton Airport has some significant plans for improved connectivity. Can you walk us through how your passengers will experience these changes in the short and long term?

- London Luton Airport has always been well connected. It is just minutes from the M1 motorway and a fast train from the airport station to London St. Pancras – the best-connected transport hub in London – takes just 19 minutes.

luton airport anual report headshots 1 TransformingLLA1

However, improving surface access is vital to our plans to increase our capacity by 50% to 18 million passengers per year. In partnership with national and local government a major upgrade to Junction 10a of the M1 has been delivered and in September we began our £110million redevelopment investment. The first set of construction works now underway will widen the airport access road into a dual carriageway, redevelop the bus and coach interchange and expand our car park and set-down facilities. Taken together with some major planned improvements to rail services, passengers will see a marked improvement in the speed and convenience of their journeys over the coming months and years ahead.

- The new Thameslink franchise has just started – what kind of partnership are you developing or already have developed with Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR)?

- We have quickly developed a strong relationship with GTR. We’ve established a formal joint strategic partnership which has already resulted in us agreeing to introduce a full overnight rail service from December this year. We are also working to introduce Oyster card services right through to the terminal door as soon as we can, whilst undertaking major improvements to signage, ticketing and branding along the length of the route.

"We are working to introduce Oyster card services right through to the terminal door as soon as we can."

- What opportunities do you see for the new East Midlands franchise which will start in 2018?

- Our aim is to make travelling to the airport by rail as fast, convenient and seamless as possible. The new East Midlands Trains (EMT) franchise presents a real opportunity to transform the airport’s connectivity with the capital and the east midlands. The ambition for the new franchise will be to increase the number of fast train services serving the airport station from one an hour to four. Securing the extra services will deliver a legitimate ‘Airport Express’ product for Luton that will rival London’s other airports giving travellers more choice and greater flexibility.

- Luton Airport is next to a national rail line, shared by airport passengers and regular commuters. These two groups of passengers have different needs, as airport passengers, especially visitors, require more information, more time to understand their travel and human assistance. What kind of challenges and opportunities do you see in this situation? How will you ensure that your passengers don’t feel overwhelmed by commuters and vice versa?

- The fact that the airport is close to a mainline railway is a key advantage for LLA. It not only means that our rail connections benefit from greater service frequency but also offers a convenient and sustainable way for many staff to commute to work.

It is true to say that airport passengers and commuters have different requirements for their journeys. However, different users tend to travel at different times; one estimate from Network Rail indicates that less than 10% of passengers during the commuter morning peak are travelling to or from London Airports. Well-designed rolling stock, such as the new trains being introduced by GTR will ensure that both commuters and air travellers with luggage can be accommodated comfortably.

"Less than 10% of passengers during the commuter morning peak are travelling to or from London Airports."

There is certainly more we could do to help at the stations, that’s why we’re working with Thameslink rail operator GTR to simplify the journey along the line for airport users through better signage and ticketing, but will be building up our service from strong foundations.

- How do you see new technologies changing the “last mile” experience at the airport and the city end?

- The ‘last-mile’ is arguably the hardest part of the customer journey to get right. We have achieved a major success by agreeing with the DfT that Oyster card services right through to the terminal door should be part of the new Thameslink franchise. Tactically we’re working with GTR and train station operators to introduce real time passenger information and integrated ticketing solutions to make passenger journeys simple.

Perhaps the biggest transformation on the final mile will be the opportunity to use technology to replace the existing bus link between the station and the airport terminal with a new fixed link. We are seeing an increasing number of methods used to bridge such gaps, from conventional heavy rail to automated rapid transit systems which is why we are working with our partners to undertake a feasibility and viability study of the various options available to us.

- In your opinion, what kind of impact driverless car technology will have to airport surface access?

- Driverless cars are an incredibly exciting technology that is developing rapidly. However, I suspect that their relative impact on airport surface access will depend on whether the technology and consumer acceptance of ride-sharing moves at a similar pace.

"Autonomous vehicles are a radical development but do offer the potential to make more efficient use of the road network"

Autonomous vehicles are a radical development but do offer the potential to make more efficient use of the road network. The potential economic and environmental benefits of this could be very significant, but I suspect that it will be decades before the technology is sufficiently mature to deliver on that promise.

- London Luton Airport is hosting this year’s UK AirRail conference. What kind of debate would you like to see at the event and what message would you like to deliver to the attendees?

- Traditionally transport infrastructure requirements have too often been planned in isolation. As we move into a world of smart cities and the digital economy becomes more established, I believe that we will need to be much more creative about how we can plan and deliver integrated transport infrastructure.

With that in mind, I am looking forward to hearing debates around the use of technology. Whether by using data and internet connectivity to more accurately predict, monitor and react to demand, creating new digital ticketing and payment options or developing new mass passenger transit systems, the potential impact of technology on air-rail connectivity is a huge opportunity for our industry.

"I am looking forward to hearing debates around the use of technology."

If I was to deliver one message to delegates, however, it would be not to lose sight of the short-medium term. The UK aviation industry continues to be engrossed by the debate on where to build future runway capacity but such a project will take more than a decade to deliver and is only part of the solution. As the recent Airports Commission identified, it is imperative that the UK continues to grow its domestic and international connectivity during this period which will require the more intensive utilisation of existing airports other than Heathrow and Gatwick. At London Luton we’ve begun investing £110million to do our bit to meet demand, but we need to work together to ensure the necessary coordinated integration between road, rail and air happens if we are to continue to meet future passenger demand and expectations.

UK AirRail 2015 Logo webheader