Luton Airport Parkway

Situated upon the Midland Main Line in Bedfordshire, 29-miles from St Pancras and under a mile south east of those platforms which serve Luton town, this station — as the name suggests — primarily serves London’s fifth airport. Four platform faces, each about 250-metres (820-feet) in length, serve an equal number of tracks, and are situated one mile west of the airport’s sole terminal. An enclosed glazed footbridge, positioned at the southeastern end of the station and linking all four platforms with a main building on the “up” side of the running lines, dates from opening.

The story of Luton Airport dates back to 1936 when, in January of that year, Luton Town Council agreed to buy over 300 acres of farmland for £30,825 (ref: The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 17th January 1936), the site of which had Air Ministry approval. The airport was formally opened on Saturday, 16th June 1938 by the then Secretary of State for Air, Sir Kingsley Wood. At the time of opening, it was stated that the airport resided just a five minute drive from the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway’s existing station at Luton, the latter of which was just a thirty minute train ride from London.

Used by the Royal Air Force during the war years, Luton became a popular hub in the 1960s for all-inclusive holiday flights to/from the Mediterranean and Canary Islands. A new terminal building was opened in 1985, the name “London Luton Airport” was used from 1990, and on 22nd August 1998 the airport was officially privatised. Until that time, the operator of the site was "London Luton Airport Ltd", of which the sole shareholder was Luton Borough Council. The 1998 privatisation involved awarding a thirty-year lease to a company under the name “London Luton Airport Operations Ltd”.

Luton Airport Parkway station was brought into use by Railtrack on Sunday, 21st November 1999. The station cost £23 million to build and, from the outset, 800 car parking spaces were provided. The station’s official opening, however, occurred on the following Thursday, to coincide with the formal commissioning of a then new £40 million airport terminal by H. M. Queen Elizabeth II. The terminal, which featured a curved roof, was linked to the existing building from 1985 by a walkway, and was host to sixty check-in desks. It was designed by architects Foster and Partners, the same team of which was behind the creation of the 1991-opened terminal building at Stansted. The Parkway station was a mile distant from the airport terminal, so a free shuttle bus linked the two from the outset. At this point in time, about five million passengers were using Luton Airport; that was expected to rise to seven million by 2002.

In 2008, as part of the enormous "Thameslink" upgrade programme — which included major rebuilds of London Bridge, Blackfriars, and Farringdon stations — all platforms at Luton Airport Parkway were extended by 80-metres (262-feet). The building of these extensions was subcontracted by Network Rail to “BCM Construction”, and they were formally opened on Monday, 15th December 2008. Their construction allowed twelve-vehicle train formations to be accommodated, and Luton Airport Parkway gained the distinction of being the first station to have platforms extended as part of the Thameslink scheme.

In April 2018, building work started on a £225 million automated cable-driven rapid transit shuttle system between the airport terminal and Parkway station. Branded the “Luton DART” (Direct Air-Rail Transit) and 2.1-KM (1.3-miles) in length, this will replace the existing bus service which has operated between the two since the station opened in 1999. The journey time on the transit shuttle is expected to be four minutes, which compares favourably to the ten minutes of the bus. The works have included the construction of a new terminal building for the transit system, adjacent to the Parkway station, which is linked to the railway platforms by a second footbridge equipped with lifts and escalators. The cable-car equipment has been supplied by Austrian firm Doppelmayr, the system designed by Arup, and construction subcontracted to VolkerFitzpatrick and Kier. The platform canopies at the Parkway station had to be shortened from their north western ends by half their length to accommodate the huge new footbridge directly linking them with the DART terminal. Additionally, a new 24-metre-long canopy was erected on the island platform, immediately northwest of the new DART footbridge. 2022 was given as the scheduled year of opening for the DART system.

In July 2020, Network Rail commenced a £900,000 scheme at Luton Airport Parkway to replace the three lifts serving the station’s platforms (platform Nos. 2 and 3 share the same lift). Work started on 20th of that month and was completed on 12th November of the same year.

2nd July 2022

A Bedford-bound view from platform 1 shows the enclosed footbridge of 1999 overhead and, in the background, the second bridge which has been erected as part of the "Luton DART" rail transit system. The canopies date from when the station opened, but had to be shortened considerably to accommodate the second footbridge. © David Glasspool

2nd July 2022

The windows of the 1999 footbridge appear to have been designed in sympathy with those of an airliner. The triangular extension from the footbridge houses a staircase leading to the island platform; the lift shaft can be seen to the rear. The next station in the London direction is Harpenden, about 4½-miles distant. © David Glasspool

2nd July 2022

The new footbridge comprises massive sloped roofs, which provide shelter for a series of escalators. The enclosed glazed waiting room seen in the middle-distance upon the island platform in this north-western view was installed as part of the "DART" works. © David Glasspool