The principle of a rail connection to Heathrow from the south has been the subject of considerable study, at intervals, for more than 30 years. Since 1960, there have been more than 10 studies or proposals that considered how to improve surface access to Heathrow by means of an additional fixed rail link. This work was commissioned by a variety of organisations including British Rail, BAA, SWELTRAC (The South West London Transport Conference), the Department for Transport, British Airways and the SRA (Strategic Rail Authority).

The scheme currently being proposed - services operating half hourly from Terminal 5 to/from Waterloo, Guildford and Reading, with stops at selected intermediate stations, results from work undertaken or supported by The AirTrack Forum since its inception in 2000 (see "About us").

Studies completed in 2004 and 2005, confirmed the practical and economic viability of the proposal.

As part of the package of decisions and approvals that gave BAA permission to construct and operate Terminal 5 at Heathrow, the Secretary of State required that certain safeguarding measures be taken. With regard to heavy rail capacity, these measures were to protect the capability for train services to be provided to serve Heathrow from the south west and the north west of the airport. To satisfy this requirement BAA provided for two extra heavy rail platforms at T5 and safeguarded an underground route from the station, through the foundations of the T5 landside infrastructure to the airport's western boundary. The structure to contain the T5 terminus of AirTrack therefore now exists within Terminal 5.

Following the T5 decision, the next great challenge for the AirTrack Forum was to seek a means of taking the proposal forward to the next stage - the preparation of a TWA (Transport Works Act) application which would give permission for construction of the scheme. Various avenues were considered and during 2006, two significant options for such funding were explored. A bid was made for resources from The Department for Transport (DfT) Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) as the scheme met the requirements of the productivity stream. In addition, DfT submitted a bid for funding from the Trans European Networks programme, for feasibility and engineering studies preparatory to a TWA application. Neither bid was successful on that occasion. The AirTrack Forum also explored the possibility that, if the AirTrack scheme could be in place by the time of the 2012 London Olympics, it would offer a useful additional routing, via Waterloo, for visitors heading to Olympic venues in east London.

In late 2006, BAA Ltd announced that it would provide the funding for HAL (Heathrow Airport Ltd) to promote a Transport Works Act Order for the scheme. This would give powers to construct, maintain and operate the railway, acquire the necessary land and associated planning consents.

Since 2006, a specific and detailed scheme proposal - "Heathrow Airtrack" - has been developed by BAA/HAL. Extensive public consultation on the proposal took place during 2008.

The Heathrow Airtrack proposal is now (July 2009) the subject of an application to the Secretary of State for Transport for an order under the Transport and Works Act 1992.

It is expected that a Public Inquiry would take place in early 2010, followed by a Government decision later in the year.

If permission is obtained and a funding package can be agreed, construction could begin in early 2011, with commencement of services in late 2014.

Full details of the Heathrow Airtrack proposals and the Transport and Works Act application, are available via BAA's Heathrow Airtrack web page. To link to this, click here.