Stansted Airport


In 1979, the topic of a third airport for London arose once again, no progress having been made on earlier schemes. On Friday, 18th May 1979, six possible sites were listed by a study group — set-up by the Government in the previous year — as candidates to become another international airport for the capital: Stansted, Willingale, Maplin, and Langley — all situated in Essex — Hoggeston in Buckinghamshire, and Yardley Chase near Milton Keynes. Of these, Willingale and Stansted were already identified as clear favourites by the BAA, and thereafter began waves of opposition similar to those against the 1960s proposals. At this stage, newspapers suggested that the third airport would be twice the size of Heathrow.

On Tuesday, 18th June 1985, MPs voted in the Commons in support of the Government’s plans to significantly enlarge and develop Stansted into London’s third airport. This paved the way for an airport with the capacity to handle eight million passengers per year, which was hoped would be achieved by the mid-1990s. To reach the original target of fifteen million passengers per annum would require separate Parliamentary approval.

In November 1985, the British Rail Board submitted a financial case to the Government for a rail link to Stansted Airport. On 24th February of the following year, a House of Commons debate detailed BR’s proposals; the main works included a new stretch of railway, 6,035 metres long, leaving the London to Cambridge line a short distance north of the existing Stansted station. The new railway would run into the enlarged airport site and was planned to be double-track as far as a tunnel, the latter of which would take it under the airport’s runway. In the tunnel, the line would be single-track, after which it would widen again to double-track to serve two platforms of a station located underneath the proposed new airport terminal. Connections with the main line would enable direct trains to the airport from both London and Cambridge directions. The “British Railways (Stansted) Bill” received Royal Assent in May 1987 and it was hoped that the line would be in place by 1990. The London terminus for these trains would be Liverpool Street, and construction work on the airport branch began in 1988. From 11th May 1987, a full electric passenger timetable for through services from Liverpool Street to Cambridge commenced.

In the 4th to 17th May 1989 edition of Rail Magazine, it was reported that tunnel boring, to take the then new Stansted rail link under the airport’s runway, had begun. By that time Stansted North and South Junctions, where single and double-track connections respectively were made between the main line and airport branch, were already laid. The tunnel boring machine used for the airport branch had been built by Howden of Glasgow and was previously used in Singapore to create two tunnels. At Stansted, boring started from the airport site, heading out in the direction of the main line, progress through the boulder clay being approximately 11-yards (10 metres) per day. The total tunnel length is 1,662-yards, and it sits on a curved gradient falling in the direction of the main line, resting six metres below the runway. The tunnel was designed for BR by “Sir William Halcrow & Partners” and built by contractor “John Murphy Ltd”. During construction a narrow-gauge line — upon which was a battery-powered locomotive and spoil wagons — was laid and extended as progress through the tunnel was made, so it could be used to remove excavated clay.

In the Courier and Advertiser (Dundee, Scotland) newspaper on Wednesday, 22nd November 1989, it was reported that the then new terminal building at Stansted cost £390 million, which BAA indicated would impact its future profits. The single-storey terminal building was designed by Sir Norman Foster, it being purposely low-rise so it was no higher than surrounding mature trees. In the Saffron Walden Weekly News on Thursday, 8th February 1990, it was revealed that 10% of the airport’s area would be landscaped, including the planting of 250,000 new trees and establishment of grassland and conservation areas.

A timetable change was enacted by BR from 1st October 1990 to accommodate the upcoming airport trains, which included adding the suffix "Mountfitchet" to the name of the existing Stansted station on the main line. This was soon replaced by a revised timetable from 5th November of that year, for the then new schedule caused existing commuter trains to lose time between Cambridge and Bishop’s Stortford. In January of the following year, BR suggested that extra tracks may be required on the Liverpool Street to Cambridge route to maintain a reliable service to Stansted Airport, because of the line’s poor history of delays. In the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper on Wednesday, 31st January 1991, it was reported that the then BR Chairman Sir Bob Reid was examining the case for extra tracks.

On 15th March 1991, Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the then new terminal building at Stansted. The Queen had travelled on the first dedicated “Stansted Express” service from Liverpool Street, formed of a four-car Class 322 electric multiple unit, one of five purpose-built for the airport line. The terminal, station, and railway service were open to the public from 19th March. The station sat directly underneath the southeastern side of the terminal and comprised three platform faces, one more than the original proposals. The journey from Liverpool Street was timetabled to take 41-minutes. Like the main line, the branch was electrified on the 25kV overhead wire system.

19th March 1991

A southward view from the terminal building shows a Network SouthEast-liveried Class 315 in the background at platform 1, likely forming a service for Stratford. A Class 322 is also seen entering platform 1 with the "Stansted Express"; these units started to be taken off airport workings as early as 1997, being replaced by Class 317 stock. The road in the foreground passes underneath the airport terminal and leads to a series of car parks. © David Glasspool Collection

8th July 1991

Class 158 DMU No. 158773 is seen at platform 2 forming the 11:53 train to Birmingham New Street on the first day these cross-country services commenced. This route was at that time operated by BR business sector "Regional Railways" © David Glasspool Collection

1st October 2021

The station is situated below a concrete raft underneath the airport terminal building. Platform 1, the longest of the three, is on the left of this view looking southwest, roughly above the buffer stops. Parked in platform 1 is a twelve-carriage Class 745/1 electric multiple unit, the type of which was introduced to the airport route on 28th July 2020. Since 2011, "Stansted Express" trains to and from Liverpool Street had been formed of Class 379 "Electrostar" units. © David Glasspool