Heathrow Junction

This was one of two airport stations, each situated roughly the same distance from Central London, which had very short existences. The first was that of Lullingstone, in North West Kent; scheduled to open in April 1939, the station's commissioning was indefinitely postponed by the Southern Railway. Four months later was the outbreak of war and, post-1945, neither the railway station nor the airport it was intended to serve ever came into use. Instead, Heathrow in Middlesex was selected by the Government as London's and, indeed, the country's primary international hub for airlines. The second station is that of Heathrow Junction which, unlike that at Lullingstone, opened to public traffic, but was in use for a mere five months. However, this station had never formed part of the original plans for a dedicated rail link between Paddington and Heathrow and, instead, was procured as an emergency stop-gap measure.

In July 1988 the Government approved a railway link between Heathrow Airport and Paddington. This was in the form of a joint venture between British Rail (BR) and the British Airports Authority (BAA) for a seventeen-mile-long route between the London terminus and airport with an approximate journey time of seventeen minutes. In the Commons, it was remarked that the link would help reduce pressure on the M4, other roads in West London, and relieve a crowded Piccadilly Line, the latter of which had opened to Heathrow in 1977.

Construction of the link got underway in 1993 at an estimated cost of £300 million, BR and the BAA funding the project at a ratio of 20% and 80% respectively (BAA subsequently bought out BR's share in 1996). The scheme was to use the existing Great Western Main Line for about twelve miles west from Paddington, this section of which would be electrified on the standard 25kV overhead wire system. Thereafter, key engineering features included a flying junction in the London Borough of Hillingdon, at which point diverged a brand new branch line dedicated to airport traffic, comprising just over five-route-miles. Of the new branch, about 95% of the track was to be situated within tunnels; from the northern portal to the station serving Terminals 1, 2, and 3 inclusive, the layout would comprise a pair of parallel-running single tunnel bores. Beyond this station, the double-track would merge into one and continue through a single bore onto Terminal 4, at which point a double-track formation in twin bores would resume to serve the two-platform station.

Balfour Beatty was awarded the contract to build the airport branch, whilst Salzburg-based engineering consultancy firm "Geoconsult GES MBH" was hired for the design and technical supervision of the tunnel bores. The latter were to be formed using the "New Austrian Tunnelling Method" (NATM), a sequential construction approach which relies on the strength of the surrounding rock to provide the ultimate support to the bores. To stabilise the rock of the tunnel walls, a thin layer of sprayed on concrete ("shotcrete") is applied as part of the NATM method, and additional support can be used in the form of steel ribs, wire mesh, and bolts inserted to the lining.

At around 1 A.M. on 21st October 1994, earth began slipping into the tunnel bore under construction near the car park for Terminal 3. The issue became steadily worse and by 23rd October, engineers were trying to prevent an empty two-storey-high office building on the airport site from collapsing into a crater formed by the failed tunnel. Heavy rain had worsened the landslide and engineers pumped concrete into the tunnel under the building — now at a distinct angle and with cracks in the walls — to stop it disappearing into the hole. Reportedly, 130,000 airline passengers became stranded as a result of the incident. Construction work on the branch did not resume until Monday, 21st August 1995, after the Health and Safety Executive ruled that the NATM could continue.

The original date of completion for the airport branch was scheduled for December 1997; this was pushed back six months as a result of the tunnel collapse. However, in spite of the underground woes, it was decided to push ahead with the launch of the shuttle service — initially branded “Heathrow Fast Train” — regardless, upon that part of the route above the surface. This started on Monday, 19th January 1998, a then new fourteen-strong fleet of Class 332 electric units running the 12¼-miles between Paddington and a temporary station at Stockley Road, West Drayton. The latter went by the name of “Heathrow Junction” and comprised one platform face served by a single-track, situated on the eastern side of the branch line. The single-track which fed the temporary station left the airport branch immediately before the latter dived into the first tunnel bores. Heathrow Junction was linked with the airport terminals by a dedicated shuttle bus, and the service to Paddington was not restricted to airline passengers. The end-to-end journey time between Paddington and Heathrow, train and bus combined, was about thirty minutes, at a single ticket price of £5.

The airport railway service became the "Heathrow Express" proper on Tuesday, 23rd June 1998, when that part of the route through the tunnels to Terminals 1, 2, 3, and 4 was opened to scheduled traffic. The closure of the temporary Heathrow Junction station was effective from that date and, by the following year, the platform had disappeared without trace. The journey time between Paddington and Heathrow halved to about fifteen minutes, but the single fare also doubled. By this time, the total project cost had amounted to £450 million.

Eurostar to Heathrow

In the August 1998 edition of Railway Gazette International, it was reported that BAA and British Airways (BA) were discussing the possibility of Eurostar services running directly between Heathrow and Paris. BA was part of the consortium behind London & Continental Railways (L&CR) which, on 29th February 1996, had been awarded the contract to design, build, and run international passenger trains upon the proposed Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL). The appeal of the Eurostar services to BA at the time was that they could replace a proportion of the company's flights between London and Paris, therefore vacating take-off slots for their more valuable long-haul traffic. It was remarked that informal discussions between BAA and BA on the topic had occurred even before the latter had gained a stake in L&CR.

Given their considerable length, a standard Eurostar formation of eighteen carriages and two power cars could not be accommodated in the 200 metre-long platforms of Heathrow's Terminal stations. "Regional Eurostar" formations, which were intended to link provincial cities with the continent, were shorter, comprising fourteen carriages sandwiched in-between two power cars; one of the proposals was to develop a "half length" version of these sets for use on Heathrow services. The latter could either include two power cars, or one of these could simply be a driving trailer, and Automatic Train Protection (ATP) would need to be fitted. A small amount of re-signalling work was envisaged, in order to increase capacity on the line, and the case for using a version of the Class 373 was strengthened by them already being capable of running off a 25 kV overhead wire power supply and having a Chunnel safety case.

It is well-known that the proposed "Regional Eurostar" services to provincial cities never went beyond a handful of empty stock test runs; naturally, nothing materialised of the Heathrow to Paris proposals either. One of the potential sticking points with the Eurostar airport services was the fact that the terminal stations at Heathrow were "land-side" and therefore not covered by immigration checks, the latter of which would be required for passengers upon the trains.

Early 1998

Class 332 electric multiple unit No. 332009 is seen at the solitary platform of Heathrow Junction. The overhead wires on the left, behind the concrete wall and railings, are above those tracks about to enter the tunnels to the airport terminals. The bus shuttle service is just out of view, beyond the right edge of this photograph, on the opposite side of the platform to the train. © David Glasspool Collection