According to a report in The New Civil Engineer, plans to build a £900M western rail link to Heathrow Airport have been brought to a “controlled pause” by Network Rail as a result of the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry and raising concerns that the project may never be put into place.
NCE revealed in December that work on the scheme to provide west-facing direct rail access from the Great Western Main Line (GWML) to Heathrow Terminal 5 was being pushed back by at least a year. However, the indefinite delay to the project was disclosed in the minutes of the Network Rail board meeting on 20 and 21 January this year, which were published at the end of last week.
Until late last year, it was understood that the Department for Transport (DfT) had instructed Network Rail to its development consent order submission from the end of 2021 to winter 2022 as part of funding agreement negotiations. However, just a month later Network Rail western route director Mike Gallop presented a report, which has not been publicly released, on the project to the board and confirmed the scheme was to be mothballed and staff currently working on the scheme reallocated to other projects.
Gallop told the board that the controlled pause did mean that the scheme “could be picked up again at some future point”. He added that the DfT would periodically update its business case for the Western Rail Link to Heathrow to reflect any significant changes to both the aviation and rail sectors as a result of the pandemic.
Rail industry insiders told NCE that further delays to the scheme and the impact of Covid-19 on Heathrow’s passenger number could see the scheme pushed further down the priority list.