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Joined up air and rail travel for Heathrow

Joined up air and rail travel in which some flights are substituted for rail journeys could lead to an improved transport system in the UK and across Europe, reduce the need for future airport expansion and improve the carbon footprint of travel. That's the message from a study published in Inderscience's World Review of Intermodal Transportation Research.

According to Moshe Givoni of the Transport Studies Unit, at Oxford University Centre for the Environment, environmental pollution from aircraft operation and insufficient capacity at major airports are major causes for concern across the European Union. He points out that the advent of high-speed trains represents an untapped resource that could fulfil some of the capacity shortage as well as reducing the overall environmental impact of transport. Givoni suggests that airlines and airport authorities would not suffer economically provided air-rail substitution were done with cooperation rather than competition between the airlines and the railways.

Givoni has examined the case of London Heathrow airport (LHR) and the potential benefits to airlines and mainly British Airways (BA). He concludes that airlines, and the air transport industry in general should vocally support the development of the railway network to ensure this includes stations at major airports. "Such cooperation should lead to airline and railway integration," he says.

In the competition between airlines and railways, on most routes, airlines lose, as demonstrated by the new high-speed links between London, Paris and Brussels, where the High-Speed Train captures about 70% of the market. Airlines also lose from using valuable runway capacity to serve these routes, which, evidence suggest, they do not make money. Yet, at several leading European airports, with railway stations and infrastructure designed for air-rail integration, airlines see improved outcomes from the development of the rail network. For instance, Lufthansa's (LH) HST services from Frankfurt airport to Stuttgart or Cologne are an example of airline and railway integration where mode substitution takes place and has been successful. And there could be more benefits to airlines, Air-France (AF) for example, utilises the French rail network to serve numerous French destinations, including many without a local airport. According to a recent report by the Department for Transport, nine UK cities benefit from direct access to the country's main airport compared with 21 cities benefiting from direct access to the neighbours' main airport at Amsterdam. In the Netherlands, in contrast, over 100 cities benefit from direct (rail) access to the country's main gateway.

Policy makers and the air transport industry generally fail to recognise how transport mode substitution can actually be beneficial for both modes - rail and air.

A railway station at an airport could be similar in many respects to additional runway capacity provided it allows for an efficient airline and railway integration, Givoni says. To be successful it is essential that the railway station offers relatively fast and seamless transfer between aircraft and railway services, with the distance platform to aircraft gate being minimised. The station must also have frequent direct links to lots of destinations, which means the airport station should be a through station on a main line.

At LHR, Terminal 5 is under construction and a new hub airport has been discounted. Givoni adds that airline and railway integration is the only viable alternative for additional development of LHR that will make Terminal 5 worthwhile. The benefits are clear for British Airways, he suggests, given the company's reliance on LHR. "Airlines would benefit from airline and railway integration, especially at congested airports since it provides them with an additional capacity that is not attached to an airport runway," he says.

Jim Corlett | alfa
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