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UK: Gatwick airport is preparing to trial electric-powered autonomous vehicles to shuttle staff across the airfield this summer.

This trial is thought to be the first of its kind for any airport in the world and, if successful, this could be the first step toward widespread use of autonomous vehicles on airfields across the world and could reduce vehicle numbers, emissions and costs.

Currently Gatwick's 300 airside vehicles are stationary 90% of the time - as staff attend to aircraft and passengers.

“If this trial proves successful then in the future we could have an Uber-like service operating across the airfield which staff can hail as and when they need to travel. This trial is just the start and much more research will be needed, but ultimately this could be the beginning of the widespread use of autonomous vehicles on airfields across the world. The new technology is a more efficient way to manage vehicles and could lead to a reduction in the number of vehicles required, emissions and associated costs,” Cathal Corcoran, Chief Information Officer, Gatwick Airport, said.

No passengers or aircraft will be involved in this trial, which will be limited to airside roads between the airport’s North and South terminals.

The trial will be run in partnership with Oxbotica – a company that develops software that enables vehicles to run autonomously without reliance on GPS or any other technology outside the vehicle. Oxbotica vehicles are also currently involved in other trials on UK roads and are currently developing a fleet of autonomous vehicles that will soon be running between Oxford and London. 

“Airports offer an incredibly interesting domain for our autonomous driving software.  There is a huge diversity of vehicles, each with a very specific mission.  The challenge of choreographing all of the activity around an individual plane, or in support of airport operations is immense and we look forward to working closely with Gatwick on this initial pilot that will demonstrate our self-driving technology carrying staff around the airfield,” Dr Graeme Smith, CEO of Oxbotica said.

Data collected from the Gatwick pilot study will demonstrate that autonomous vehicles can work safely on an airfield, which is a complex environment with a wide range of different vehicle types moving in many directions both on and off road systems.

The data will be used in dialogue with the Department of Transport, Civil Aviation Authority and others.  XL Catlin – a global insurance company - is also interested in being part of trial to learn more on autonomous airfield vehicles from an insurance perspective.

"As Oxbotica’s Insurance Partner, XL Catlin are dedicated to enabling the widest possible adoption of this exciting technology by developing and providing the right insurance solutions. This is a great initiative by Gatwick Airport and we are delighted to be part of it," Jason Harris Chief Executive, International, XL Catlin said.

If the trial proves the technology fit for purpose for an airport, then additional uses can be explored.  IATA – the trade body for the world’s airlines – advocates more than 40 use cases for autonomous vehicles including push back tugs, passenger load bridges, baggage vehicles etc.

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UK: Heathrow Express (HEx) rail service has been preserved to at least 2028 under a new agreement announced today. This agreement, which confirms fast, non-stop rail connections for Heathrow passengers over the next decade, has been approved by the Department for Transport and will see Heathrow Airport retaining the commercial aspects including marketing, ticket pricing and revenue, while FirstGroup’s Great Western Railway (GWR) subsidiary will run the operational aspects of the Heathrow Express service under a management contract from later this year.

As a result of this agreement, a new Heathrow Express Langley depot will no longer be needed. The depot would have been required to service trains because the HS2 building schedule requires HEx to vacate the Old Oak Common depot by the end of 2019.

Heathrow Airport will continue to own the HEx service, and will be responsible for managing rail stations at the airport. Passengers will also benefit from new ticket readers at Heathrow and Paddington, which will allow users of Heathrow Express and TfL Rail (soon to be Elizabeth line) to use pay as you go Oyster or a contactless device.

GWR will manage the introduction of a new, dedicated fleet of trains for the Heathrow Express service, which will be specially converted by December 2019 to provide first class carriages, high speed Wi-Fi, additional luggage racks and on-board entertainment. Until that time the HEx service will continue to be provided by the existing fleet of trains.

Building an integrated transport hub and ensuring at least 50% of Heathrow’s air passengers travel by public transport by 2030 is a priority for Heathrow.

This May, the initial phase of Heathrow Crossrail services will be introduced. From December 2019, and the full opening of the Elizabeth line, rail services to Heathrow will increase from 18 trains per hour today to at least 22 trains per hour. A train will depart Central London to Heathrow on average every two-and-a-half minutes, including:

  • 12 Piccadilly Line trains per hour – 6 trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 4 and 6 trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 5
  • 6 Elizabeth line trains per hour – 4 trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 4 and 2 trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 5
  • 4 Heathrow Express trains per hour – all trains serving Terminals 2, 3 and 5

Heathrow, the DfT, TfL and Network Rail are also conducting a joint feasibility study into increasing the frequency of the Elizabeth line service to 8 trains an hour by the mid-2020s.

As part of the arrangements, the Department for Transport will progress the development of the proposed new western and southern rail links to Heathrow. These new links would make it quicker and easier for people from the across the south and west of England, and south Wales, to get to the airport.

Rail Minister Jo Johnson said:
“We are investing in the biggest modernisation of the UK rail network since Victorian times and improving the provision and frequency of rail services to Heathrow is crucial to our plans. New western and southern rail links to Heathrow would make getting to the airport quicker and easier for holidaymakers and business travellers across the south west, south Wales and south of England, as well as helping connect UK exporters to new international markets.”

Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said:
“This agreement secures convenient and reliable public transport journeys to Heathrow in this decade and beyond. We have ambitious plans to transform rail journeys into the airport, and our passengers will reap the benefits of having Heathrow at the heart of an integrated, sustainable transport network.”

FirstGroup Chief Executive Tim O'Toole said:
“Today’s agreement demonstrates the transport industry working in partnership for the benefit of passengers, allowing fast and convenient connections to continue on this crucial airport link. We are an experienced rail operator with a strong track record in delivering customer improvements, and through this management contract we look forward to building on this operational expertise, as we work with Heathrow to bring in a dedicated fleet of high-specification trains that will help keep people moving and communities prospering in the future.”

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MALAYSIA – Express Rail Link Sdn Bhd (ERL), the operator of KLIA Ekspres and KLIA Transit services, unveiled its new KLIA Ekspres train with an exciting new livery based on Songket Malay textile art motifs.

At the same event, Minister of Transport, YB Dato’ Sri Liow Tiong Lai also announced an increase in frequency on KLIA Transit during peak hours, effective from 14th March 2018.

ERL bought six new trains from Changchun Railway Vehicles Co. Ltd (CRRC Changchun) of China back in 2014 to accommodate the strong demand and improve passenger comfort. All six trains have now been delivered to ERL. The commissioning and testing process has been completed for one KLIA Ekspres train and two KLIA Transit trains. The latest train livery blends traditional motifs with a vibrant colour splash, producing a unique contemporary design that represents the innovative spirit of the company.

“The additional new trains bought by ERL offers a better value proposition which is important to attract more people to use public transportation. It also complements the Government’s commitment to improving land public transport infrastructure, quality of service, and first-and-last mile connectivity,” Dato’ Sri Liow said.

Executive Chairman of ERL, Tan Sri Mohd Nadzmi Mohd Salleh said, “The six new trains will increase ERL’s total capacity by 50% and allow ERL to offer a more efficient service to cater to our growing ridership, which has increased notably since the opening of KLIA2 in 2014. The additional new trains also mean less scheduled downtime for maintenance which translates to less interference in daily schedules and routines and provides more comfort and reliability.”

The additional services on KLIA Transit during peak hours will significantly benefit commuters and air travellers alike. Train departures will be improved to every 15 minutes during morning and evening peak hours on weekdays (from 6am to 9am, and from 4pm to 7pm) from the current 20-minute intervals, putting it on par with the KLIA Ekspres service.

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SWEDEN: After 15 years as CEO of A-Train, the company who operates Arlanda Express, Per Thorstenson is retiring towards the end of the year. Under his leadership, Arlanda Express has become established as one of the world's most successful, award-winning, airport train companies. The recruitment process to find a new CEO is underway.

Arlanda Express is a major feature for visitors to Stockholm, carrying millions of tourists and Stockholmers every year. Under Per Thorstenson's leadership, the company has won many awards for train design, on-board service and the company's commitment to diversity and durability. At the same time, the number of passengers has been steadily increasing on the Arlanda rail link.

"Leading Arlanda Express has been incredibly rewarding. Together we have created a company that is very strong, as a brand and financially. Our goal has always been to be leading example for customer service, not only in Sweden, but internationally. It is with pride I can say we have succeeded,” Thorstenson said.

The recruitment process to find the next CEO is underway and further announcements will be made in due course. Per Thorstenson will remain as an advisor to the company in a transition period.

"Under Per’s exemplary leadership A-Train has developed strongly as a company. It is with great appreciation that we thank him and wish him well in the future,” said Simon Geere, chairman of A-Train.

Milestones under Per Thorstenson’s Leadership

  • Service Score: Best Service "Land Transport" 2013-2017
  • Per Thorstenson awarded as Person of the Year by The Global AirRail Alliance
  • Cambridge Analytica: 3G Diversity Awards 2016
  • Swedish Transport Administration: Sweden's most punctual train operator, 2011- 2015
  • Global AirRail Awards: Best service in the world for express trains to / from airports 2013
  • Monocle Magazine: No. 2 in the World - Travel Top 50 2012
  • Monocle Magazine: Best Express Train to / from Airport 2012
  • Red dot design award / Product design 2011 of the year
  • Global AirRail Awards: Project of the Year 2011
  • ISI Wissing: Most satisfied customers in the travel industry 2011
  • Newspaper Manager: The Year's Expert Award for Working with Diversity 2010
  • Stockholm Chamber of Commerce / Stockholm Shippers: 2002 Transport Company