Stansted Airport is “fighting with its hand behind its back” due to rail route
Business / Fri 10th Feb 2023 am28 07:51am
STANSTED Airport is “fighting with its hand behind its back” because a rail route through Hertfordshire, Essex and London is running at the “minimum standard”, MPs have warned.
MPs have urged the Treasury to stump up the cash to improve rail links throughout the East of England – including a “turn up whenever” Stansted Express service between London, Harlow, Bishop’s Stortford and the airport.
The East of England All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) wrote to John Glen MP, chief secretary to the Treasury, in a bid to secure four trains per hour on the route.
Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson (Con), who has previously been a vice chair of the APPG, said she is working with rail firm Greater Anglia and the Department for Transport to achieve a better service.
The APPG’s letter, signed by MPs Peter Aldous (Con, Waveney) and Daniel Zeichner (Lab, Cambridge) reads: “It cannot be right that the fastest recovering and fourth busiest airport in the country, let alone the region’s major gateway to the world, is only being served by two trains per hour into London rather than the ‘turn up whenever’ four trains per hour service it received prior to Covid.
“The effect of less frequent trains is to make rail travel to Stansted less attractive than other modes of transport.
“Government data is already showing significant modal shift away from rail and towards the use of private car, driving up emissions.
“It also leaves the airport fighting with one hand tied behind its back when competing for international airline investment against the other major London airports, which enjoy better and more resilient rail connectivity into the capital.”
The letter, which was also signed by councillors in Suffolk and Bedfordshire as well as Eastern Powerhouse chair James Palmer, adds: “While other parts of the country receive record levels of funding across their rail networks, the East of England continues to be held back from achieving its potential.”
Commenting on the proposal, Ms Marson, who is assistant government whip, said: “Bishop’s Stortford is a commuter town, and people rely on the Stansted Express to get into and out of London quickly.
“Increasing its service back up to four trains per hour will improve its reliability and help with issues like overcrowding.
“I am working with Greater Anglia and the Department for Transport to do this. Any further updates will be shared as soon as possible.”
According to airport consultancy Alan Stratford and Associates, Stansted Airport is showing the fastest recovery in the UK.
Airport operator Manchester Airports Group said its passenger levels in December 2022, the most recent data available, represented 93 per cent of passengers that used Stansted in the same month in 2019, before the pandemic.
The number of passenger journeys on the UK’s rail network in the year to March 2022 lagged 43.1 per cent behind figures recorded in the year to March 2020, according to the Office of Road and Rail.
In the most recent round of government “Levelling Up” funding, some of the highest value successful bids involved railway projects – including £50million for a Cardiff Crossrail, £50m for a Mid Cornwall Metro, and £47.9m for Peterborough railway station enhancements.
A Bishop’s Stortford Climate Group organisation spokesperson said Hertfordshire must see better public transport to encourage residents to leave their cars at home.
They said: “We need better public transport if we’re going to encourage people to leave their cars at home.
“So increasing the number of trains from Bishop’s Stortford into London and the airport is to be welcomed.
“Obviously a caveat is that we all need to limit our air travel to avoid it blowing our carbon budget.”
A Greater Anglia spokesperson said: “We work closely with Stansted Airport to ensure we provide the appropriate service level for customers travelling to and from the airport by rail.
“We discuss expected future travel demand, to help decide the points at which additional services could and should be introduced, subject to approval from the Department for Transport.
“We are currently running more than half of our pre-pandemic Stansted Express services.
“However, as we are running our new, longer trains, which have many more seats, we have more seats available than before the pandemic, so the present service level generally copes well with the current demand.
“Travelling by rail is one of the greenest forms of transport, and we are committed to providing a frequent service to and from the airport.
“We would expect that assuming air travel demand continues to recover and grow over time, that will help build the case for adding in more train services to and from the airport.”
The government’s future spending plans are due to be announced in the Spring Budget 2023 on Wednesday, March 15.
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