Heathrow Southern Rail spends £1M despite uncertainty

Heathrow Southern Rail (HSR) has spent £1M on developing its rail route into Heathrow, but still has no timeframe from the government as to when the scheme might be taken forward.

In March the government gave its backing for a southern rail route into Heathrow and called for alternate proposals. Despite this, it has yet to give any certainty as to when a decision on which scheme will be taken forward.

This has given rise to the concern that without a set timescale, the decision to go ahead with the scheme could be open ended deterring further investment.

“I absolutely understand the government’s challenge,” said Aecom strategic programmes director Russell Jackson. “If they go with the first scheme that comes along then there could be a backlash with people saying ’hang on a minute, someone else could have delivered that with more value, where’s your test?’ So there has to be a test.

“But as the private sector we worry about certainty, uncontrollable risks and timescale for return, so we just need a little bit of help to nail some of these issues down to give us more confidence to invest.”

The scheme will be seen by many as a test case for the Department for transport’s (DfT) new market led proposals (MLP) proposition.

One investor, unconnected to the HSR scheme said: “If they can’t make it work with this scheme then they won’t be able to make it work anywhere else on the network. The government cannot keep the private sector on tenterhooks for so long as it will lose confidence and go elsewhere.

“We are following this process carefully to see if we want to invest our time and money putting forward our MLP proposals.”

On the southern route into Heathrow, there are currently thought to be around four schemes which have been proposed, however the HSR bid is the only one to have been made public.

Heathrow Airport its chief executive John Holland-Kaye told New Civil Engineer that the Heathrow Southern Rail bid was the most developed of the schemes to be submitted thus far.

The 14km long stretch of railway linking Heathrow to Chertsey would be delivered entirely using private sector investment. However, it requires government backing to guarantee its use of part of the existing rail network.

“Even schemes as urgently needed as this one take time to deliver and we don’t want to see a southern rail link take as long to reach maturity as has already been the case with the western route,” said Heathrow Southern Rail chief executive Graham Cross. “We need the process to be as compressed as possible with the DfT [Department for Transport] not slackening in its pace when choosing the best scheme.”

Strategy consultant Nichols is currently managing the market sounding exercise and is expected to report back to would be schemes in the Autumn.

Written by Katherine Smale

Reproduced by kind permission of New Civil Engineer