Plane to SEN, Then Train From SIA: A Return to Southend
Southend Airport’s new £12million rail station will finally open for business on Monday (17th July 2011).
Following repeated delays, the first train from Southend Victoria to Liverpool Street is due to stop at the station at 4.05am.
Airport owners Stobart have also revealed they will start charging customers to use the station’s 350-space car park on the same day.
The new train station will be on the National Express East Anglia line and, at peak times, take about 55 minutes to get passengers to Liverpool Street and 45 minutes to Stratford, the site of the 2012 London Olympics.
Airport managing director Alastair Welch: “We are very pleased that, as of Monday, the station will be operational.
“I believe that when the municipal airport opened 75 years ago, the mayor at the time remarked that it would be good to have a railway station there. We are pleased to finally realise that.
The station has been a long-held dream of airport bosses. Planning permission for the station was actually obtained from Rochford District Council back in 1997 by previous owners.
But it was not until the airport was sold to the Stobart group, in 2008 that work was done to push forward the scheme.
The station has seen its opening date pushed back a number of times. It had initially been due to open in December 2009, then the summer of 2010, before the date was pushed back to this summer.
Construction began in late 2009 and most of the station was complete by the start of the year.
Trains have actually been stopping at the station since last month and Southend Airport included on the National Express timetable since May, but passengers were unable to get off.
Stobart, not National Express, will employ the staff who man the station and meet passengers getting off the train.
Mr Welch added: “We will operate the station ourselves, primarily because we can ensure a very high standard of customer service from the first point at which passengers arrive at the airport until they get on the aircraft. Staff will be there all day, meeting people getting off the aircraft.”
Charging for all the airport’s car parks will be gradually introduced over the coming months.
From Monday, the station car park will start charging £1 for up to half an hour parking, £2 for an hour and £4 for two hours.
There will be a £6 day rate and a £35 weekly rate but there will be no charge for those parking for less than ten minutes.
Our earlier posts on the renaissance of Southend Airport attracted a lot of interest from both supporters and opponents of the scheme including, SAEN, the “Stop Airport Expansion Now” group. The latter were critical of the planning permission decisions of Southend Council and of the Secretary of State for not calling in the planned runway expansion scheme in for a public inquiry and ministerial determination and are seeking a judicial review, The news that easyJet, (who deliberately spell their name in a manner designed to befuddle spell-checkers) were signing up to operate flights from Southend to three destinations – Barcelona, Faro, and Ibiza – with possibly Amsterdam, Berlin, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast to follow, will undoubtedly impact upon their confidence and may inhibit their continued ability to raise funds to meet legal costs. The airport now has momentum on two fronts – it has secured a key revenue driver and it has the basis a solid land side access strategy – both critical success factors.
The Revenue Driver – The Start of a Blue-Chip Customer Base
Mark Twain once said “When a man says it’s not the money, it’s the principle of the thing – it’s the money.” Well every time a major investment is made – it’s the money or as the Chartered Institute of Bean-Counters says – cash flow. With every big investment there is a period when cash goes out before revenue comes in. Just how much cash goes out and how long it takes to come in can be the difference between eating lunch with your bankers and being the main course on the menu. In the early stages cash goes out quite quickly – in Stobart’s case £21 million pounds to acquire the business and then a further £30 million investment programme on upgrades including a new terminal to process passengers and associated facilities. Staff need to be recruited and trained long before the first passenger crosses the threshold. They, together with other creditors, will be expected to be paid from day one of their engagement.
A graph of the the bank balance at this stage would show the characteristic picture known as the “Death Valley Cash Flow Curve” because the sides are steep, if not sheer, as large lumpy payments are made. Cash flow will continue to be negative until the great day dawns when the first customer gives you the first cheque (At least that was the case before cheques became an endangered species). The first payment in is liable to be small and not enough to put a dent into the corporate overdraft – but it is a vital start.
Many new ventures zoom down the side of Death Valley and then – because new customers have not appeared in sufficient time, numbers or both – crash into the rocks of what these days is called administration, but which the wisened elders of LR (a group which includes this author) might know better as receivership. In many cases, it is all a matter of confidence. In Stobart’s case their reputation in logistics stands them in good stead, together with their strong balance sheet. As cargo specialists, the vagaries of self-loading cargo (otherwise known as passengers) probably hold few terrors for the company, its shareholders or its bankers.
What was needed was a blue chip customer. Southend Airport is already served by the small Irish carrier Aer Arann, in whom Stobart hold a stake. The level of activity created by such a venture would never be enough, however, to keep the bankers at bay – what was needed was a heavy hitter and…
Based upon a concept pioneered in 1971 by a small Texan airline, South West Airlines, easyJet founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the son of a Greek-Cypriot shipping magnate, was inspired to bring the business model to the United Kingdom just as de-regulation and privatisation were beginning to reshape the map for the national flag carrying airline oligopolists of Europe. A founding function of the European Union was to facilitate the free movement of goods and services throughout Europe. To support the European Union deregulated European civil aviation as well as introducing stringent regulations about the terms of which all national government state aid was granted to national companies but particularly to civil aviation. Internal mobility was increased when unrestricted intra Europe flights were permitted in 1993; whilst in 1997 the “Open Skies” deregulation was fully implemented when, as Chairman Mao Zedong almost suggested, a thousand business opportunity blossoms were let bloom. A second flowering took place later following the accession to the European Union of eastern European states in May 2004 enriching the passenger mix with plumbers and other skilled tradesmen amongst others coming to fill unfulfilled market needs.
After 1993, there was a period of turbulence in what was already a steeply cyclical global industry which resulted in a number of loss incurring flag carriers going to the wall – Olympic, Swissair and Sabena spring to mind. Based in an increasingly labyrinthine collection of Portacabin’s finest temporary buildings at London’s Luton Airport – in those days it was plain Luton – easyJet established its first routes to Scotland. The first flight ez11 took off in the rain on the 10th November 1995. A flair for cheap or free publicity, mainly because the massive indulgent advertising budgets of the world’s self-styled favourite airlines were simply not available, undoubtedly helped nimble upstarts such as Ryanair and easyJet establish a brand image. For easyJet, painting their phone number on the side of their distinctively liveried aircraft was a start and their participation in the reality television show “Airline”; (almost certainly showing on a digital channel near you) put them into homes across the country.
Opportunistic takeover activity also helped easyJet when the British Airways’ spin off “Go” operation was taken over in 2002. The elimination of a rival with a very similar business to easyJet and a base at London’s Gatwick was in many ways a masterstroke. From a surface access point of view, Gatwick’s rail links with Central London and the South Coast were icing on the cake – confirming that the effect the opening of Luton Airport Parkway Station in 1999 had on stimulating traffic was not a one-off experience.
The South West Airlines business model, described in detail in Jody Hoffer Gittell’s 2003 book “The South West Airlines Way”, was predicated on minimising operating costs by not only cutting out passenger facing frills such as nuts and hot towels, but also pairing back operational costs by using one type of aircraft. This simplified the maintenance spares holding and the type rating qualifications of the engineering and flight crews. A rigorous focus on ground operations from check in to boarding including the – at the time revolutionary – concept of reusable boarding passes was introduced together with a zeal for minimising dwell time.
It is a popular misconception that short flights are cheaper to operate than long flights when the opposite is true. Per mile flown short haul flights are more expensive as a result of planes spending more time on the ground relative to being in air. Time spent on the ground is more expensive both in terms of additional costs: landing fees and the labour cost intensity of ground based servicing. Many of the set up costs of both long haul and short haul flights are similar (passenger handling, baggage, ramp based maintenance cleaning, etc.) but long haul flights being generally less frequent have fewer set-ups and a greater mileage flown to over amortise the costs.
easyJet also pioneered, in Europe, a business improvement process known as disintermediation by cutting out travel agents and adopting a direct phone sales operation. Agents had previously acted as gatekeepers to an airline’s reservation system. Telephone sales later evolved into the web based operation that is in general use today. Together with Irish rival Ryanair, easyJet built upon earlier American yield management models to develop the budget airline pricing model that is seen today, where passengers seated in the same seats on the same flights may have paid a price dependent on their assessment of the flight’s utility to them, rather than a common tariff.
With regard to easyJet’s relationship with Southend, low cost budget airlines tend to take no prisoners in demanding competitive price terms and favourable operating conditions from airports. Conferences are held regularly to enable local authorities to pitch to low cost carriers the virtues of their destination. Withdrawal from airports that seek to increase costs is not unknown. Newquay, an airport that struggled financially after the adjacent Saint Mawgan RAF station closed, faced such treatment when it wanted to introduce a departure fee payable by passengers directly. More recently Ryanair withdrew from Alicante following a dispute about over whether air bridges owned by the airport were to be used, or the handy stowaway steps supplied with the aircraft, leased by Ryanair.
Undoubtedly easyJet will have driven a hard bargain with Stobart, not only over landing fees but also over the supply of check in desks, office and parking space because that is integral to the nature of the low cost operating model they operate. The number and destinations of flights will vary over time. Low cost airlines typically begin with a fanfare of publicity on the establishment of a new node and later quietly withdraw in the event of the new route being unsuccessful. Although typically both summer and winter holiday destinations are served, the autumn will usually see route frequencies and destination numbers cut back. For their part Stobart, who have up close and personal experience of living and thriving within constantly cost aggressive supermarket chains, will have argued their case based on the limited choice available to airlines wishing to land in the South East and the newly attractive short train ride from and into London.
easyJet’s choice of Southend will have been influenced by a number of factors. Take-off slots will have been one. Competition for take-off and landing slots in the south east is intense and only increasing, as airports get closer to capacity and delays caused by bad weather or industrial disputes abroad continue to hold steady. In the long haul sector, there is intense competition for landing slots with Heathrow as the principle prize for aspirant carriers – although Gatwick and Stansted could in some cases be an enforced yet acceptable alternative.
The government has blocked expansion at Heathrow and Stansted, which together carry 87m passengers a year, raising concerns among business organisations that a lack of capacity could hamper the United Kingdom’s (and in particular London’s) economic growth. This prompted an analyst at Charles Stanley Securities, Douglas McNeil to comment:
This neatly illustrates the way in which capacity constraints at London’s two biggest airports are prompting airlines to unlock the potential of existing runways elsewhere in the region.
Slot committees are common at busy airports where airlines attempt to manage orderly rationing of scarce resources. Grandfather rights to certain time slots have arisen, which in turn has given rise to a traded market in slots. This is often criticised by economists as inefficient – their preferred solution is for airports to sell slots on an auction basis. Not unnaturally this provokes heated opposition from airlines, the current holders of grandfather rights, who value the slots as both an asset and a source of continuity to their passengers. It does, however, lead to airlines that are lean and keen and seeking South East expansion opportunities to examine Southend even before the proposed runway extension is built. Being an early adopter and therefore a big fish in Southend’s slot pond will in due course stand easyJet in good stead.
easyJet’s initial plans are to base three Airbus A319 aircraft at Southend – but in practice easyJet aircraft not based there will fly into Southend. easyJet, unlike British Airways, which tends to have predominantly London centric basing of its aircraft, has a network of multiple nodes and so adding flights from existing nodes into the new entrant has the effect of reducing the overall cost per flight at the existing nodes – in effect making operations in Ibiza even cheaper.
The major constraint the current short runway imposes is the restriction on the weight of planes taking off. This in turn influences the range aircraft can fly and in the case of the budget airlines it potentially compromises their capacity to freely rotate their chosen standard type of aircraft through all the nodes on their network. As previously highlighted, operating a limited range of aircraft is integral to the low cost business model. Special aircraft types reserved for Southend only routes is in cost terms an absolute no-no. easyJet’s aircraft of choice is the Airbus A320 and although it does operate the lower capacity A319, it recently converted a twenty options to build aircraft from A319’s to A320. Delivering the 300 metre extension to support easyJet’s A320’s and other carriers equivalent Boeing Aircraft is therefore essential to easyJet remaining, or other low cost carriers becoming, a growing presence in Southend.
The location of Southend is attractive from the airlines’ point of view being twenty minutes flying time closer to northern European destinations than most other south-eastern airports and it is also on at the periphery of the complex air traffic control patterns that cover the South East. Each landing and take-off rotation at Southend will gain forty minutes in permitted crew flying time as compared to locations further inland. It also has an impact on the second element of Southend’s momentum – its surface access strategy. The reduced flying time means passengers will be on then onward journeys sooner reducing their door to door overall journey times.
Surface Access Strategy
We have in the past banged on, possibly to the point of tedium, about the importance of surface access strategies, particularly in the case of the London Gateway Port, (a topic to which we will soon return). Airports have found that direct rail links are attractive to both inbound and outbound passengers and influence fight purchase decisions. Traditionally outbound passengers used to travel by car to airports and use car parks around the perimeter yielding a valuable land-side income stream to the airport operator. Being to some extent a captive market, parking fees reflected the quasi Hobson’s choice that passengers had. Although London Gatwick has had a station since 1935, Heathrow was relatively late into the game with the 1977 extension of the Piccadilly Line from a re-oriented Hounslow West. The Terminal Four Loop followed in 1986, with Heathrow Express T1&T4 in 1998 and both tube and standard gauge services to T5 in 2008. Stansted’s rail link had opened in 1991 whilst Luton Airport Parkway opened its train doors to passengers in 1999.
Southend did not really begin to develop until the end of the eighteenth century, the early impetus being the craze amongst the wealthy for sea bathing. Mass tourism was hampered by poor communications until the construction of a pier in 1830 brought in boats from the metropolis. It was not until the arrival of the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway, whose Southend terminus (now Southend Central) opened on March 1st, 1856, that the town really began to grow. A second rail line, built by the Great Eastern Railway, reached Southend Victoria from Shenfield in 1889.
In 1910, the Great Eastern embarked on a policy of all year round services between Liverpool Street and Essex Coast Resorts and in 1911 stepped up the frequency of London expresses from one per day to eight. Their zeal to develop the route was quickened by the GER’s board’s surprise in 1912 when the Midland snatched away the London, Tilbury and Southend line. The LT&SR at that time was a heavy freight line from Thames-side ports as well as an efficient and competitive passenger carrier over a route that is six miles shorter than the GER line. Historians have suggested that failure to avert this coup by the Midland’s Sir Guy Granet prompted the premature resignation the Great Eastern’s General Manager, Walter Hyde. The Midland, by virtue of its strong freight revenues from the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coalfields, was able to comprehensively outbid the Great Eastern, which apart from traffic transferred by the Great Northern and Great Eastern Joint line carried little coal. As a result of this lack of freight revenue, the Great Eastern had been largely built on the cheap giving rise to the legacy of large numbers of level crossings that bedevil what are now major commuter routes today.
Southend airport began life shortly afterwards when, during the First World War, a flying base was established. The first flight followed in 1915 when Flight Sub Lieutenant A.W. Robinson took off in an unsuccessful attempt to intercept a German Army Zeppelin. This modest beginning led to regular RFC activity at Southend over the course of the War until 1919, when the recently formed RAF derequisitioned the airfield and the land reverted to farming. Interest in flying increased in the early 1930’s and the old RAF site was purchased by Southend Council in 1933 and flying returned. The airfield was officially opened in 1935 and regular scheduled flights to Rochester soon followed. At the outbreak of the Second World War the Airport was again requisitioned by the RAF and all civil flying ceased. After the War, Southend Council again took over the running of the Airport, with a modest number of scheduled services running in the late 1940’s to The Channel Islands and Ostend.
In the mid-1950’s two runways were laid and this led to a new level of commercial flying at the Airport for both passenger and cargo operations. Viking, Viscount, DC3 and Carvair aircraft all operated from Southend.
One aircraft suffered a close encounter with the railway line running along the eastern boundary of the airfield. The picture must date from after 1958 when Southend route was added to the existing Shenfield and Chelmsford services. The LNER started to electrify the Shenfield to Liverpool Street line during the 1930s. Civil engineering work had started before the outbreak of World War 2, but the war delayed completion until 1949. The stretch from the new maintenance depot at Ilford and Chadwell Heath opened on 23rd March 1949, and the remainder of the line opened on 26th September 1949. The route was extended to Chelmsford in 1956 and Southend in 1958.
By the mid-1970’s traffic at the Airport began to decline, to the extent that in 1994 Southend Council – after considering closing the Airport – sold it to the previous owners, Regional Airports Ltd. RAL set about refurbishing the Airport and resurfacing the runway. Passenger flights were by now a small part of the Airport’s activities, with the Jersey airline Flybe being the only operator. In 1998 the government gave the go-ahead for London Southend Airport to build a new passenger terminal and railway station. A long wait then followed.
As part of their development strategy, Stobart felt that the new station was essential and pressed ahead with its construction. The station was designed by Atkins Global and built by Stobart Rail over 23 months at a cost of £12·5m. Stobart operate the station themselves.
The station takes passengers from the airport on eight trains an hour to Liverpool Street Station in 49 minutes and to Stratford in 42 minutes. Security checks outbound are intended not to be more than four minutes (according to easyJet) and passengers landing with hand luggage should, in theory, be on the platform just 15 minutes after touchdown. The reduced flying time mentioned above makes Southend competitive in terms of door to door journey times to London.
Although the station was a significant additional investment, experience elsewhere in the United Kingdom shows that quality airport access links can be critical. Like Southend, which has to break through being in the hinterlands of Stansted, Luton, London City and the other South East Airports, Robin Hood Airport at Finningley near Doncaster also struggles to deal with the competitive pressure of incumbent airports at Manchester, East Midlands, Humberside and Leeds Bradford. Like Southend, Robin Hood suffers from relatively poor road access.
Based upon a former RAF V-bomber base [and still occasionally home to Britain’s last flying Vulcan Bomber – JB], its long runway is an attractive feature able to put it into the heavy hitter league, but this is heavily discounted by poor road and rail surface access. Like Southend, a railway line runs past the airport just to the north. Indeed a station used to exist on the site, which is five miles east of Doncaster on the Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint line. This line leaves the East Coast Main Line at Huntingdon, running through March, Spalding, Lincoln Central and Gainsborough Lea Road, re-joining the ECML at Black Carr Junction, just south of Doncaster. The station was used by service personnel stationed at the base as well as locals but it closed as part of the Beeching cuts in 1961.
Doncaster Council is now backing a proposal for a new Finningley station to serve the airport. In the long term the council are proposing to build a spur into the airport. In the meantime, the airport struggles.
SAEN point out in their literature that the new Southend airport station will offer little functionality to the residents of Southend who will tend to use the more direct LT&SR route into London. The harsh fact that SAEN have to face is that the new airport station was not established with that objective in mind – its primary role is to get passengers to London as quickly as possible. My colleague, Pedantic of Purley, in his recent review of the Great Eastern Main Line RUS, drew attention to the study’s conclusion:
Operational analysis has identified that significant infrastructure enhancement, focusing on the main constraints at London Liverpool Street, Stratford, Shenfield and elsewhere, will be required to provide for around three additional services”.
The current service from Southend typically stops at all stations from Southend Victoria to Billericay and then generally run fast to Stratford and Liverpool Street. The platforms on the branch are all sufficient to support 12 cat train sets. The single line branch that runs down the Crouch Valley from Wickford to Southminster can, with the exception of Battlesbridge, service 8 car trains. Services include through workings to London as well as shuttles to Wickford and Shenfield. The continued running of eight car trains in the peak from Southminster is a capacity constraint that will have to form part of an operational review. Both platform lengthening down the Crouch Valley, and also the lengthening of the loop at Fambridge, or the truncation of short trains short of London could be possible options.
Crossrail to Southend?
A topic that has raised controversy in Southend was the call, made by John Lamb and other members of Southend Council, for the line from Shenfield to Southend to be included, Reading style, within the scope of the Crossrail network.
Currently Crossrail’s north eastern terminus is being built at Shenfield. Concerns usually raised about route pollution could be overcome by incorporating services from Shenfield to Southminster and Southend in their entirety into Crossrail. The flying junction at Mountnessing north east of Shenfield could to some extent segregate Southend and Southminster trains from GEML traffic to the north. Linking the Southend route to Crossrail in its entirety would therefore be relatively simple. It would, however, require that the branch was signalled and controlled to interoperable standards with Crossrail and that the capacity to run fast from Billericay and Shenfield to Stratford was retained. All platform lengths would need to be at least 250 metres long to allow for eventual upgrade of Crossrail trains from 200 to 240 metres. Whether this would be easily achieved if the Southminster trains were obliged to continue at sub-Crossrail train length would be an issue. The planned use of platform edge doors in the central section of Crossrail probably implies an unacceptable increase in the complexity of system integration required and operational difficulties as passengers would struggle to board short trains with fewer doors in the peak. A split of services with some trains continuing to Liverpool Street via the classic route remains an alternative.
Although the prospect of direct access to the centre of London would be attractive to the large percentage of Southend Airport’s projected 1 million passengers, the proposal has not found favour with the existing users of the line to Liverpool Street. The travelling community that commutes daily to Liverpool Street and then, like many City Commuters, walks to work is both numerous and articulate. Their concerns were voiced by Geoffrey Bryson, Vice President of the Southend Railway Travellers Association, who said:
Does Southend councillor John Lamb really want to spend at least 75 minutes and stop at every station to Liverpool Street?
At present it takes less than 55 from Southend Victoria on a non-stop train from Shenfield to Stratford on services throughout the day.
His idea would mean there would be little chance of getting a seat at Liverpool Street’s new deep-level platforms coming back home.
That is what his idea of extending the Crossrail to all-stations trains to Southend Victoria would entail.
Going to Heathrow, Bond Street or Paddington will be much easier when Crossrail is built, with a single change at Stratford.
This association has fought for a 100 years for regular fast trains with as few stops as possible on both lines from Southend to London.
Mr Bryson’s points are valid but it is also the fact that his members will have to face having the share their existing trains to and from Liverpool Street with the additional passenger stream from the airport. As travellers from Stansted via the West Anglia Main line know, commuters and airport travellers make uneasy coach-fellows with the latter’s requirement to board and exit with large, wheeled and often heavy suitcases. Crossrail trains by virtue of their Heathrow links will have this requirement of larger luggage storage capacity built in and by definition smaller seating space designed in. (as have the new generation Thameslink trains). This cannot be said of the existing stock providing the Southend Victoria service. Airport passengers and daily commuters will notice this, particularly, in the more condensed morning peak when a tranche of flights from Eastern Europe will tend to arrive, as dawn will always have occurred earlier Warsaw and Vilnius than Southend.
Readers may well remember the row that broke out when Crossrail was first debated by Parliament when the outer termini were set as Shenfield and Maidenhead. This was fiercely criticised by MPs, particularly those from Reading who saw their city as the Crossrail’s natural terminus. It was argued that Reading station required extensive rebuilding and that the absence of wires on the GWML was a problem. These objections have in the course of time fallen away and today nobody argues that Reading is, or should be, beyond the Crossrail pale. Crossrail, in the meantime, developed a plan founded on meeting the primary need of London to relieve the Central and Metropolitan and Circle lines. There is now a well-founded general consensus that Central London, one of the largest regional agglomeration economies in the world, is now, or very soon will be, beyond the angioplastotic relief that ATO can bring to sclerotic underground rail routes, limited by history to both 12 foot diameter tubes and complex sub surface flat junctions.
Sometime soon fundamental bypass surgery, in the form of what are effectively, “super-tubes” or, as they are more generally known, Crossrail lines, are going to be required. This “super-tube” design philosophy can already be seen in the proposals for the number of trains terminating at Paddington or Old Oak Common and my particular hobby palfrey, the absence of loos on Thameslink trains. Until John Lamb dragged the idea back into public view, the idea of Crossrail terminating at Shenfield tended to have become part of the conventional wisdom. Reading’s opportunistic catch up through the emergent benefits arising as part of a solution primarily designed to improve links from the whole of the M4 corridor is the first prick in the “super tube” only balloon.
Enter Network Rail. On the 30th June 2011, the London Assembly’s Transport committee held a session to enquire into the impact of HS2.
This event was an interesting piece of political theatre that did unearth new insights despite the DfT and HS2 choosing to play the role of Banquo’s Ghosts by their refusal to turn up. We shall be going into the implications of this meeting in greater detail shortly. For those readers who cannot wait the web cast link is here.
Network Rail did turn up and explained that their role was to manage the eighteen point interface where the first phase of HS2 and the existing classic rail network. The most significant of these nodes is Euston. In particular, Network Rail faced close questioning as to how the station could be rebuilt to cope with HS2 without massive losses of current capability. Brian Coleman drew the contrast between the relatively moribund Saint Pancras being rebuilt to cope with HS1 and the same happening at an already jammed to the doors Euston, and foresaw the possibility of a major snarl up.
Unsurprisingly, Network Rail had already given this issue some thought and in their RUS programme have suggested a link between Crossrail at Old Oak Common and the West Coast main line at nearby Willesden to enable trains from Milton Keynes to run through to Crossrail – thereby reducing demand for platform space at Euston. It is idea that has been suggested before, but the HS2 project has brought it back into sharp focus. In fact it is a good idea even if HS2 does not go ahead immediately. Crossrail is already underway and the idea of creating a Stratford-sans les Jeux Olympique zone in the west of London has considerable appeal to local politicians seeking to boost their local economies.
But if long distance commuter trains were to run through Crossrail from the west, where might they reasonably and preferably cheaply be expected to go? Could it be somewhere with a relatively non-conflicted link just beyond Shenfield, perhaps?
Times like this call for a man with a plan and in this case the man could be Councillor Lamb, cheered on from the wings by the owners of Southend Airport.
North of Southend
In 2002 Mott MacDonald completed The London to Ipswich Multi-Modal Study (LOIS) for the East of England Regional Assembly (EERA). The East of England Regional Assembly was eventually dissolved on the 31 March 2010 and no longer functions as an organisation. It would, however, be a pity to leave Mott’s recommendations lost forever in the bottom of a locked file cabinet, stuck in an unused lavatory with a sign on the door reading ‘Beware of the Leopard’ at the local planning department in Alpha Centauri.
LOIS was one of 4 multi-modal studies which were carried out in the East of England following the publication in July 1998 of “A New Deal for Trunk Roads in England”. The overall aim of the study was to recommend multi-modal transport plans which would address the most significant transport problems in the corridor between London and Ipswich, looking in particular at opportunities for modal shift from the car and the lorry.
Their proposals included:
- A rail link between Chelmsford and Epping via Ongar with link
- A north-south rail route through Essex from Benfleet via Wickford and Shenfield with a chord to a new Epping-Ongar line.
- Capacity and Service enhancements on the Great Eastern mainline between Shenfield and Ipswich.
- High Quality bus and coach corridors.
- A Lower Thames rail crossing.
- A rail link between Stansted and Colchester.
- Crossrail ‘Regional Express’ services to Stratford and possibly Crossrail 2 at Kings Cross.
- A rail link via Harlow and Sawbridgeworth to Stansted Airport.
Many of these ideas still have merit and no doubt as discussion over Crossrail 2 continues these will once again surface.
One final point to make as far as Southend and its airport’s surface rail strategy is that although though the Airport Passenger stream will undoubtedly be dominated by travel to London, it has to be borne in mind that to the north of Mountnessing Junction lie the major centres of Chelmsford, Colchester and Ipswich, whose residents and visitors could well choose to travel from Southend Airport.
Although all communications routes in the area are London-orientated and the capacity to travel by rail is difficult from South East Essex into Suffolk, changing trains at Shenfield is difficult as many Southend trains run fast from Billericay, which is often bypassed. The missing south east to north west chord is thus potentially low hanging fruit.