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Airtrack - too many outstanding questions to be acceptable

December 20, 2008 12:09 PM
South-West train enters station

There are many unsatisfactory aspects to the Airtrack proposal

Local Liberal Democrats have serious concerns about the proposed Airtrack link between Staines and Heathrow terminal 5. Below is the text of the submission made by Councillor Caroline Nichols on behalf of Spelthorne Liberal Democrats. The formal consultation period closed on 15th December 2008.

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I am writing on behalf of Spelthorne Liberal Democrats to the Airtrack Consultation. We have a number of concerns which fall under three broad headings: Is Airtrack part of an Integrated Transport Strategy?, What Effect will Airtrack have on the Local Economy?, What effect will Airtrack have on the local Environment?

Spelthorne Liberal Democrats, in principle, are in favour of improved public transport links in the area, which could include better links to Heathrow. However the proposals being consulted upon do not, in our opinion, constitute an acceptable solution unless substantially amended to address the points we raise below.

Is Airtrack part of an Integrated Transport Strategy?

1) The Airtrack proposal seems very much driven by what might increase the profitability of Heathrow. The line via Staines Moor and into Staines seems designed to be driven by the cheapest solution to linking terminal 5 into the mainline network and has therefore not been considered as part of an Integrated Strategy for West London, Surrey and the South-East.

2) The Consultation claims that 72% of Heathrow's current passengers would be within one rail interchange of the airport. It does not say how many of them already are within one interchange, or how many existing non rail users would transfer to rail with the opening of Airtrack and we suspect BAA forecasts may be over-optimistic. In our experience of South West Trains, one interchange is enough to deter the use of rail if the alternative approach by road is adequate.

3) The Consultation concentrates on Reading, Woking and Guildford but has nothing to offer Heathrow users in the Southeast direction of Sunbury, Kingston and beyond. We note that one of the discounted rail routes was directed out from the south east of Heathrow.

4) There are fears that Airtrack will compete with and take away services that were promised for the Windsor line following the return of the Eurostar platforms to South East Trains. There is also demand from residents living on the Shepperton branch line for more through trains to Richmond, a service which is currently restricted to two trains in the morning and evening rush hours. If the Shepperton service via Richmond was extended it would have to compete for the same track to Waterloo as the Windsor and proposed Airtrack services.

5) What account has Airtrack taken of other national and local transport proposals such as the recently mooted 'Central Rail' scheme which would have taken freight from Dover to Manchester on a route via Colnbrook? If Airtrack is to be part of an integrated scheme it needs take account of such future possibilities.

What Effect will Airtrack have on the Local Economy?

1) The planned rail crossing arrangements are unacceptable and will cause serious traffic congestion over a wide area, particularly in Spelthorne and Runnymede. The number of trains proposed and the length of time that some level crossings will be shut will create or add to existing congestion black spots in Staines, Egham and beyond.

2) The whole of Spelthorne is an Air Quality Management action Area (AQMA) indicating the very high car usage. Although Airtrack will link Heathrow to Staines, most of Spelthorne essentially lies outside the proposed sphere of influence of Airtrack. There will be no point, for example, for someone travelling from Sunbury to Staines to get a train to Heathrow. We cannot see therefore how Airtrack will contribute to transferring drivers in Spelthorne from their cars and onto the rail network.

3) The Chord without a station in Staines' Core Business District is valueless to the town. The proposal for frequent regular traffic on the Chord will detract from Staines as a shopping centre that people would want to visit. Users of the Staines Synagogue have also expressed concern that the Chord is too close by.

4) Car Parking spaces are already set to be lost from the Bridge Street and Oast House Car Parks, both proposed for housing or commercial development. In this context, the loss of an extra 70 spaces to the Chord would be significant.

5) What arrangements will be made to encourage the use of Airtrack? Without additional parking facilities at or close to stations, improved public transport provision to Airtrack stations or other inducements, we are unconvinced that the service will be of any use to local residents and workers.

What effect will Airtrack have on the local Environment?

1) The latest Consultation proposes removing the overhead transmission lines on Staines Moor but retains them at Stanwell Moor. This is unacceptable to the amenity of residents at Stanwell Moor Village.

2) The volume of trains on the Chord represents noise pollution for residents living in Staines as well as the air pollution associated with increased traffic congestion at level crossings.

3) How practical, safe and sustainable are the engineering solutions proposed for the crossing of Staines Moor? We are very concerned about the retention of the SSSI and water meadows: these are delicate eco-systems which will be disrupted by the construction work. Additionally parts of the area have been used for dumping in the past and construction will disturb potentially unsafe material.

Finally we would observe that it is unclear if the financial projections are sound and as such the scheme may prove to be unsustainable in the long run. By that time irrevocable damage to the local economy and environment may have been done.

Yours sincerely

Caroline Nichols

On Behalf of Spelthorne Liberal Democrats