Government urges private investors to come forward for new Heathrow rail line

A new rail line taking passengers from Waterloo to Heathrow Airport could be one of the first projects under government plans to invite private investors to fund rail projects.

Transport secretary Chris Grayling has announced that the government is seeking third party involvement for proposals for a new southern rail link to Heathrow, which would be in addition to the £47bn Network Rail is already planning for the next five years.

In what could prove to be a big statement of intent moving forward and an indication of how the government sees large rail projects being funded in the future, it’s argued that this new approach would “relieve the burden on taxpayers and fare payers”.

Commenting on the proposed Heathrow line, Grayling said it would help ensure the airport is even more accessible to those across the west and south of the UK.

He said: “We are investing in the most significant modernisation of the UK rail network since Victorian times and I want the knowledge and expertise of investors and local partners to contribute to delivering new connections, more services and better journeys for passengers. “This has already proved effective on a number of roads schemes in the UK. By encouraging innovative ideas and new investment on our railways, we can relieve the burden on taxpayers and fare payers with projects that match our transport needs. This can also support our economic and housing aspirations to ensure everyone benefits from an enhanced rail network.”

Heathrow Southern Railway Limited (HSRL) – the independent venture set up to transform the rail network serving Britain’s busiest airport, has already drove the need for such a line and has estimated the construction of the eight-mile line as anything up to £1.6bn.

HSRL executive director Graham Cross last month welcomed indications from the transport secretary that the government is seeking private investment. He said Grayling’s remarks “recognised the importance of southern rail access to the future of Heathrow and the contribution private investment can make to its early construction” and claimed a Heathrow Southern Railway would bring “immediate mitigation to road congestion and air quality”.

Responding to today’s announcement, HSRL chair Baroness Valentine said: “We welcome the transport secretary’s invitation and stand ready to fulfil this once in a generation opportunity to open up Heathrow to train services from London and the south of England whilst also transforming connectivity across the whole region.  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.”

Responding to the annoucement, Nelson Ogunshakin, chief executive of the Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) said: “This is great news for our railways and we’re delighted that our calls for increased investment through complementary private funding have been heard. There is a huge opportunity for market-led proposals to unlock rail projects which will improve frequency, capacity and connectivity across the rail network. Given the strains our railways are under, we should welcome additional sources of investment, and encourage the competitive process to deliver these projects cost-effectively. We look forward to seeing a new pipeline of projects emerge thanks to this news, starting with the southern rail link to Heathrow.” 

The government has also published the rail network enhancements pipeline which sets out a new approach for rail proposals that require government funding. The approach aims to create a rolling programme of investment, focused on outcomes that provide benefits for passengers, freight users and the economy and moving government investment in enhancements away from a rigid five-year cycle.

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