Designs for a rapid rail connection that will link England’s two busiest airports, London Heathrow and Gatwick, and are being drawn up that would cut the journey time between them to 15 minutes. With no direct rail line currently in place, the proposed route – dubbed HS4Air – would track much of the route of South East England’s busiest motorway, the M25, beating the current journey time achievable by car by at least 30 minutes. The fast connection possible by rail also includes bus transfers and takes one hour 40 minutes.
The 40-mile section would be part of an 87-mile route that would run south of London, circumventing the capital to connect Ashford International in Kent with the Great Western Main Line and the as-yet-inbuilt High Speed 2 (HS2) line. Should HS4Air enter operation it would provide two high speed train options running either side of the capital.
It’s estimated that HS4Air will cost in the region of £10 billion, with plans for the new rail route to be submitted to the Department for Transport at the end of July. That would open the door for private investors to submit suggestions that will help improve congestion in the area, but which crucially won't require any upfront costs from UK taxpayers.
Those developing HS4Air say that the creation of the 87-mile line would free-up much needed congestion in the area, particularly on the roads feeding into central London, while journey times to mainland Europe would be improved thanks to the new connections that will be created with HS1 and the proposed HS2 line. And it’s not just the South East that wquld benefit if developers’ plans are realised – it’s estimated that the journey time between Manchester and Heathrow will be cut by more than two hours to 1 hour 10 minutes.
HS4Air has been developed by London-based Expedition Engineering together with architects Weston Williamson + Partners (WW+P), the infrastructure architects that will create Crossrail’s Paddington station, and planning and development consultants, Turley. The new line would include four new stations along the route: Ashford and Tonbridge, in addition to the new hubs at Heathrow and Gatwick. “HS4Air takes the problem of linking HS1 with HS2 and turns it into an opportunity in by-passing London entirely whilst better connecting the UK’s two largest airports and the country generally through high speed rail,” said WW+P associate partner Nick McGough.
The planned introduction of HS4Air comes at a time of big change for the UK’s airport strategy. In June, the UK government formally approved plane to install a new runway at Heathrow – an expansion plan that will reportedly cost £14 billion and in turn increase airport capacity from around 85.5 million to 130 million passengers.
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