NETWORK RAIL has begun consultation on plans to build the Western Rail Link to Heathrow (WRLtH), a connection from the Great Western main line to the airport. NR intends to submit a Transport and Works Act Order application for the scheme, with main construction works targeted to begin in 2022 and the railway becoming operational in 2028.
The proposed scheme consists of a 6.5km connection leaving the main line between Langley and Iver. After a short stretch of open line in a cutting, a 5km tunnel would pass under Richings Park and Colnbrook and then merge with existing rail lines underground at Heathrow Terminal 5.
NR is considering two possible routes for the final section of the tunnel – one which would allow trains to turn back at Terminal 5 as well as running through to Terminals 2 and 3, and a second which would allow trains to run through Terminal 5 and Terminals 2 and 3 then on to London Paddington.
The second option would remove the section of track to allow trains to turn back, shortening the tunnel by 100 metres. A recent change to the proposed line has been to make the initial gradient steeper, removing the need to alter platforms at Langley station. Main construction work would take around five years to complete, including 15 months of 24-hour tunnelling.
The proposed service over the Western Link comprises four trains per hour in each direction calling at Reading, Slough and Terminal 5, with alternate trains stopping at Twyford and Maidenhead.
Estimated journey times could be as short as six to seven minutes from Slough to the airport and 26 minutes from Reading.
The latest consultation exercise runs until 22 June, after which NR will analyse the comments it receives and will publish finalised plans and hold public consultation events in late 2018/ early 2019. The aim is to submit a Development Consent Order application in mid-2019.
The cost of the scheme is expected to be in the region of £1 billion, although NR notes delivery will remain subject to a satisfactory business case and the agreement of acceptable terms with the Heathrow aviation industry.