UK AirRail: Connecting for Growth conference review

Posted on in Events News

UK rail meetingEVENTS: UK rail and air operators met last week to discuss the future of seamless travel and the challenges that the rail franchises have to face to ensure fast and convenient connections to UK airports.

Supported by easyJet, the conference emphasised the role of dedicated non-stop airport rail links.
"We support the Government's vision for a transport system that is an engine for economic growth.

We also believe that to create a sustainable framework for aviation in the UK, surface access, particularly rail transport to and from the airports is key to delivering this growth," Paul Simmons, General Manager UK at easyJet said.

Summarising their vision for airport rail access, Paul Simmons said: "We need dedicated rolling stock with sufficient luggage space, such as Heathrow and Stansted Express; we need dedicated services such as Heathrow Express; simple free and frequent connections between airport and rail station; and improved signage, ticketing and marketing to increase patronage and make it easier for passengers to use an airport rail link."

According to Alex Foulds, Development Director at Southern Railway, a very significant proportion of people use Gatwick Express.

"Gatwick Express holds 42% of inner London journey market share and 13% total airport journey market share. Passenger number grew from 4 million at the start of the franchise to 5.35 million in 2011/2012."

"We've changed our Gatwick Express fleet to Class 442 trains to increase the capacity by 10%. These are old trains but they were refurbished before coming in to the service. The problem with these trains is that the doors are not as wide and there is more of a step up to board the train, but they have plenty of luggage space and are very reliable."

Alex Foulds also introduced the improvements to the Gatwick Airport station for better passenger experience. Southern Railways have taken over the operation and management of the Gatwick Airport station from Network rail and are looking to upgrade the station. They've already installed new signage, floors, ticket machines and gates. At the moment work progresses on an additional platform 7, this will allow a dedicated platform for Gatwick Express.

According to Julia Gregory, Head of Surface Access Transport at Gatwick Airport, the biggest challenge is to keep the commuters and air travellers happy.

"We have about a million commuters travelling through Gatwick. The critical thing that we are lobbying for is the specification of the Gatwick Express within the Thameslink franchise. We want the recognition of the economical value rail passengers bring to the airport and the UK economy."

Paul Simmons also brought the attention to the less than perfect rail connection to Luton Airport, easyJet's original base.

"We need to get the rolling stock to meet the needs of the passengers travelling to London Luton Airport. The signage at St Pancras station is also not great and the first and last train call needs to be addressed. The bus between London Luton Airport Parkway railway station and the airport needs to be free. You can't ask people for £2.50 when they just arrive in the country. You also need to simplify the ticketing. We believe that if you buy a ticket to the Luton Airport Parkway it should take you to the airport rather than to the station. And we want enhanced train service branding, similar to Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express. We think Luton should have dedicated airport express," Paul Simmons said.

According to Michael Schabas, Associate at the First Class Partnerships, Stansted Airport has a potential to become a second London air hub.

"If you build four runways at Stansted and create the right rail connections, airlines will come," Michael Schabas said. "Railways deliver three things - capacity, speed and connectivity. Connectivity is very important. Airport passengers do not want to change trains more than once."

Paul Kehoe, CEO at Birmingham Airport urged the government to have a different approach to aviation strategy.

"UK aviation policy is toxic, political and not encouraging the competition. If we have a different approach, we might have a different solution. Perhaps a differential tax regime, or a congestion tax at airports?"

UK Minister of State for Transport, RT Hon Simon Burns MP has emphasised the importance of air-rail links and assured the delegates that UK Government has a laser focus on modernising railways, airports and links between them.

Notes to Editors
UK AirRail Connecting for Growth was organised by airrail EVENTS, part of The Global AirRail Alliance, an international organisation dedicated to air-rail intermodality.

Conference video intro, full Minister's speech and Q&A session is available here.