Heathrow Airport Disputes With Crossrail Project Over Access Fees

Crossrail Train Exterior

London’s Crossrail Project is facing a big challenge over access charges imposed by London Heathrow Airport. Will the key cross town service skip one of the busiest airports in the world when it opens in 2018? 


Crossrail Project

Dubbed the Elizabeth line, the Crossrail project is one of Europe’s largest construction project that will span over 10 years from planning to full line operation and will cost appropriately £14.8bn (May 23, 2017 Exchange Rate: US$19.2bn, €17.2bn) to complete. The project’s key vision is to connect major east and west London points and reduce transfers on different modes of transportation. The goal is to significantly reduce travel time, increase productivity and improve economic activities from residential / commercial developments.

London Crossrail Route Map

London Crossrail Route Map (May 2017)    Source: Crossrail Ltd

Challenges Ahead

Multi-modal train access to London Heathrow Airport is already available through the Piccadilly Line (subway) and Heathrow Express (express train) currently. While the rail regulator, The Office of Rail and Road (ORR), previously decided that Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) could not charge trains for using the line, the airport authority nevertheless wants to levy £570 (May 23, 2017 Exchange Rate: US$740, €661) for each train using its track and an operational fee of £107 (May 23, 2017 Exchange Rate: US$139, €124). The airport authority would like to recoup some of the £1 billion costs (May 23, 2017 Exchange Rate: US$1.3 billion, €1.2 billion) over 20 years to build and maintain tunnels. This unaccounted for levy may drive up Crossrail costs by £42 million (May 23, 2017 Exchange Rate: US$54.5 million, €48.7 million) yearly.

The ORR said: “In May 2016, taking into account representations and evidence from affected parties, including considerable documentation and submissions from Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL), we decided HAL is not permitted to introduce all of its proposed new charges for train operators to use its track, which links Heathrow Airport to the Great Western main line.”

A spokesperson for Heathrow Airport Limited said: “We are committed to increasing public transport to Heathrow and look forward to the arrival of Crossrail in May 2018. We need to ensure that track access charges are fair and are waiting on a ruling from the courts on whether the regulations apply and if so, their correct application to costs.”

The airport authority requested the High Court for a judicial review and a ruling is expected “imminently”. While ticket prices on the Elizabeth line have not been set, they could be raised to cover the additional operating costs should the High Court rules for HAL. Pricing is a key denominator to determine use of service. Higher prices could lead to lower overall engagement for the service which was the reason behind Heathrow Express’ decision to lower prices up to 75% in February 2016 (News).


Train Specification

The new line is scheduled to enter service in May 2017 with access to London Heathrow Airport in one year’s time. A fleet of 66 new Class 345 trains were purchased and manufactured  by Bombardier Inc. located in Derby, United Kingdom.  The 200 metre (656.2 feet) long trains will have nine fully-interconnected walk-through carriages designed to handle up to 1,500 people. These carriages will feature air conditioning, CCTV,  WiFi, 4G capabilities, real time information displays. Both trains and new stations will be fully accessible.

Service Schedule

  • May 2017 – The first new train enters passenger service between Liverpool Street Main Line and Shenfield.
  • May 2018 – TfL Rail service opens between Paddington (National Rail) and Heathrow Terminal 2 and 4, replacing the existing Heathrow Connect service and part of the Great Western inner suburban service. Frequency is likely 2-4 times an hour.
  • December 2018 – The Elizabeth line opens between Paddington and Abbey Wood, Liverpool Street to Shenfield, Paddington Main Line to Heathrow Terminal 2 and 4.
  • May 2019 – The Elizabeth line through service extends from Shenfield to Paddington.
  • December 2019 – The Elizabeth line is fully open, extending to Reading and Heathrow Terminal 2 and 4.

Key Facts

Here is a list of key facts for the project.

  • The line will be over 117.5 kilomtres (73 miles) long.
  • Over 100 million working hours have been completed on the Crossrail project so far.
  • Crossrail will transform rail transport in London and the south east, increasing central London rail capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the city.
  • The Crossrail route will run over 100km from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new tunnels under central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
  • There will be 40 Crossrail stations including 10 new stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood.
  • Crossrail will bring an extra 1.5 million people to within 45 minutes of central London and will link London’s key employment, leisure and business districts – Heathrow, West End, the City, Docklands – enabling further economic development.
  • The first Crossrail services through central London will start in late 2018 – an estimated 200 million annual passengers will use Crossrail.
  • Construction of the new railway will support regeneration across the capital and add an estimated £42bn (May 23 Exchange Rate: US$54.5bn, €48.7bn) to the economy of the UK.
  • The total funding envelope available to deliver Crossrail is £14.8bn (May 23 Exchange Rate: US$19.2bn, €17.2bn).

It is very unlikely that the new Elizabeth Line will bypass Heathrow Airport in 2018. The High Court will determine whether the line will incur additional costs accessing the airport and how that will be passed onto travellers.