Is Slough’s tunnel to Heathrow off the rails?

In February 2013, the Thames Valley Local Economic Partnership announced, “Full steam ahead for the £500m western rail link to Heathrow.”

In October 2013, they trumpeted, “Final route for western rail access to Heathrow [WRAtH] to be announced by Christmas. Full steam ahead for the planned western rail access to Heathrow project with a major decision due by the end of the year [2013].”

It’s now February 2014 and there is still no sign of the preferred WRAtH option, at full steam or otherwise. WLR has spoken to the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) and they do not even expect such an announcement because the necessary preparatory work, part of the updated process for regulatory approval, hasn’t been completed.

In an early sign of trouble, WRAtH was the only project in a huge list of rail investment announced by the Government in July 2012 that had a caveat, ‘subject to a satisfactory business case’. In seeking to rush ahead without considering all the options, has Slough repeated the mistakes of BAA’s ill-fated Airtrack project? Being quick with the wrong solution can end up taking longer than being slow with the right one.

WLR meanwhile, having completed its technical due diligence on its phase 1 at no cost to the taxpayer, is submitting its ‘pre-planning’ application to the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead in the next few days and the project is being debated at full council on 25 February. Phase 2 of the WLR would connect to Heathrow at a fraction of the cost of Slough’s tunnel and provides additional connectivity to the south, giving a much stronger business case. The DfT has confirmed that WLR phase 2 satisfies their criteria for a westerly rail link to Heathrow.

If this is important to you please let your local councillors know or get in touch.

Update 5.3.13: Perhaps prompted by the blogpost, Network Rail have now apparently announced their preferred route. However, as above, it’s not clear how this will be approved by the regulator, who has made clear of the need to consider value-for-money especially in the light of the work being done by a separate part of Network Rail for south-western access to the airport at the urging of the Airports Commission.