So instead of looking at expensive, shiny baubles, the government’s review should concentrate on getting the basics right: remembering to put the rubbish out, cooking more often, or in the case of London’s airports, making sure they are used more efficiently. Considering an expensive runway as a short term fix to Heathrow’s woes seems mad when you consider that Stansted is running at 50% capacity, with the space for more terminal buildings that would linked seamlessly into existing motorway and rail infrastructure.
The problem is that getting between London’s airports is utterly nightmarish – as anyone who has trekked across the capital to catch a connecting flight knows. Slow bus journeys around the M25 are the order of the day: not exactly reassuring if you have a tight schedule, and hardly an advertisement for modern Britain. The logical solution would be a Heathrow-Stansted rail link, yet this would obviously be a wickedly expensive option given the distance involved.
But curiously enough we already have all the infrastructure in place to operate such a service.
Re-laying the track on a disused rail chord south of Tottenham Hale is all that stands in the way of running trains between the two airports. The Gospel Oak – Barking line is a busy railway, but improved passing loops and signalling would allow passengers to transfer in about 70 minutes.
|The disused rail chord|
If looking at airport strategy is indeed a completely open-minded exercise, then there is the potential to shift the political consensus from a negative (a wasteful short term fix at Heathrow) to a positive (creating a long term solution – potentially building Boris Island in the Thames Estuary).
This process will be drawn out, with either solution decades away. The fine tuning of our existing facilities should start without delay – and with the imagination and flair that London desperately needs.
First published by Platform 10 on September 10th, 2012