18th November 2002

Commuters will pay the price for Stansted expansion

COMMUTERS will bear the brunt of the predicted rapid rise in passenger numbers at Stansted airport if expansion goes ahead, rail experts predict. The London Transport Users Committee (LTUC) has warned that without major investment the rail network would struggle to cope with servicing even a single extra runway.

The LTUC believes long-suffering commuters could face reduced services, delays and overcrowding if the WAGN Cambridge to London line is not upgraded significantly by the time the proposed second runway would open in 2011.

WAGN accepts the system is currently running “at capacity” at peak times, especially around Liverpool Street, and commuters already face regular delays.

The Department for Transport claims the existing railway line would need only “enhancements” to help deal with the projected increase in passengers using the airport from 15 million now to more than 80 million in ten years’ time.

It claims an extra track would only be necessary if the Government picked the three or four runway option at Stansted.

At the very least the number of Stansted Express trains running at peak times would need to double – causing a potentially serious knock-on effect for thousands of commuters and those using the numerous level crossings.

Jerry Gold, LTUC rail support officer, said: “Whilst LTUC has no remit regarding the size of airports, we believe it is vital that the public transport arrangements for any airport in the London area are sufficient to serve its capacity without detriment to other transport users. If the capacity at Stansted is to be increased by four or five-fold – which we are told would be the effect of an extra runway compared with existing use of the airport – it would be quite unacceptable not to do the same for public transport services.”

“I find it very difficult to see how even an ‘enhanced’ version of the existing infrastructure could cope with an increase of anywhere near that magnitude. The Stansted Express runs every 15 minutes except in the commuter rush hours, when it runs every half-hour,” he continued. “The crunch would come when it became necessary to run it every 15 minutes during the commuter rush.”

“With the existing infrastructure, it could only be done at the expense of the commuter trains travelling into London and back” he added.

Mr Gold said a key requirement would be a four-track railway through the Lea Valley between London and at least Cheshunt.

The proposed Crossrail scheme could eventually ease pressure into Liverpool Street itself by diverting Shenfield trains away from the terminus. This, in conjuction with four-tracking could allow a true Stansted to London express service similar to those operating from Heathrow and Gatwick. But the opening date for Crossrail is 2012 – and many experts believe that is hugely optimistic as the scheme has not yet been authorised.

But the effect would reach beyond the railway to car commuters.

Government figures show aircraft movements – take offs and landing – would increase by 700 per cent from 19 an hour now to 140 an hour.

An estimated 43 million passengers a year are expected to arrive at the expanded airport by car. A single extra runway would generate an extra a quarter of a million extra car journeys every day, compared with 40,000 at present.

The impact on already busy roads such as the A120 and the M11 and increased rat-running through the adjacent country lanes would be catastrophic for road commuters and people going about their daily business.

Norman Mead, chairman of Stop Stansted Expansion, said: “A lot of people believe Stansted will have got off lightly if the Government finally decides to build ‘only’ one new runway at the airport. But they could not be more wrong. A two-runway airport will have a massive impact on the area. The rail network, barely adequate now, would be overwhelmed. Cramming more trains on to the existing line would lead inevitably to more overcrowding, more breakdowns and lower reliability.”

Campaigning to ensure Stansted Airport's authorised operations stay below harmful limits