London Luton Airport to replace bus transfers with £200m light rail link

Luton airport plans to park its much-maligned bus transfer service once and for all and build a £200m light rail link to the nearest railway station.The fast-track service would make journey times between the capital and Luton airport faster than for those flying via Gatwick, the airport claimed.The 24-hour, automated light-rail link would replace the buses currently used to transfer travellers between the station and the terminal, making the fastest complete journey from Luton airport to London St Pancras less than 30 minutes. The 1.3-mile link will be funded by Luton borough council, which owns the airport freehold. While the station is almost adjacent to the airport perimeter, it is around 40 metres downhill from it, making a fixed rail link difficult to build. Luton airport is spending a further £110m on redeveloping its terminals and layout to expand capacity to 18 million passengers a year by 2020. The chief executive, Nick Barton, said: “We’re delighted Luton borough council is making the investment. It’s perfect for us: we’ve been on a journey but there’s always been that fundamental gap between the terminal and the very good train service – served by a bus, which just isn’t good enough.”The rail link would connect to the terminal from within the railway station, one level above the platforms. Barton said: “It’s raising the game and raising our standard. When you get to Luton Airport Parkway you will think that you’re actually at the terminal.”EasyJet, the biggest carrier at the airport, welcomed the news, saying the redevelopment was a key factor in its pledge to double the size of its operations there over the next decade.A planning application would be made in autumn for work to begin in 2017. While Barton cautioned that it would need to “be scrutinised more closely than a normal application” because of any perceived conflict in the council’s ownership of the airport, which is let as a long-term concession, all of the land required is already owned by the council. He said Luton was working closely with the Department for Transport to remove barriers to rail travel to the airport, including tackling any ticketing confusion, and allowing passengers to travel between the airport and London using Oyster card or contactless payment by 2018.Luton would also benefit from the upgrade of Thameslink trains, as well as being served by St Pancras, Barton said.“The whole train story is just transforming and this is the next big – but very big step – to making that journey superb.”The news is likely to prompt further chagrin at the rival Stansted airport, where hopes of a fast rail connection to central London have been dampened by Network Rail concluding that upgrades would only shave 2-5 minutes from the current 45-53 minute train journey. Passenger numbers grew 17% to 12.3 million in 2015 at Luton, which indirectly employs more than 8,600 staff. The airport serves 123 destinations, mainly operated by low-cost and charter airlines.

Source: The Guardian