Chris Stokes, Chief Executive of Heathrow Southern Railway Limited (HSRL), writes: 

“A sceptic might legitimately ask why we need a new railway to an airport when fewer people are using either trains or ‘planes. Here are two reasons. 

Firstly, Heathrow Airport is always going to be important to the economy of the UK and, in particular, to its most commercially powerful region – London and the South East of England. When the pandemic finally ends, the rapid recovery of civil aviation is likely to be an important engine of economic renewal, even if the sector takes some years to regain its earlier volumes. 

Whether or not Heathrow is eventually allowed to expand, opponents and supporters almost all recognise the importance of the airport to existing local jobs and overall economic buoyancy. If the Government wants to secure the future of Heathrow’s international competitiveness within its existing air traffic movement constraints, one obvious change would be to accelerate the improvement of its surface access which, to the south and west, is non-existent other than by road. 

The second reason for approving a southern rail link to Heathrow is that, in the aftermath of the pandemic, it is clear there is no desire to restore the previous negative environmental effects of human activity. Our Prime Minister and US President Joe Biden may gently mock each other on who came up first with the expression ‘Build Back Better’ but in truth they – and many other world leaders – actually mean it. So also do increasing numbers of members of the public. 

Consumers are becoming ever more aware of how their own choices have environmental consequences and will expect to be able to undertake end-to-end journeys by the most sustainable means possible. An airline passenger of the near future will be more likely to choose an airport that can be accessed by zero-emission public transport. Heathrow is desperately lacking in this regard. 

Post-Brexit Britain needs its only hub airport to be the destination of choice to environmentally- aware global business customers for whom Zoom or Teams are not a complete substitution for personal contact, and it needs Heathrow to be the sustainable gateway for direct flights bringing travellers, tourists, explorers and students for whom virtual reality will not replace actually being in our country.”

Heathrow Airport’s own analysis shows that Southern Access of the sort proposed by HSRL would by 2040 bring 1 million more of the UK’s population within an hour of the airport by public transport, be used by 3.9 million air passengers and 0.75 million airport employees per year, and would raise public transport mode share by 4%. Without effective Southern Access, road traffic volumes and the associated congestion and pollution between Surrey and the airport will remain stubbornly high. 

HSRL’s position was encapsulated as follows by our Chair, Baroness Jo Valentine: 
“We want to put many more communities within easy reach of the UK’s only hub airport by train, enabling them to reap economic benefits whilst at the same time reducing road congestion and improving air quality. Heathrow Airport must recognise that new rail links are necessary if it is to prosper in a way which is acceptable to stakeholders.”

Without Southern Access in place residents will have no viable alternative but to continue to drive and pay the Vehicle Access Charge which by 2040 could be as high as £50 per visit.