Stansted Airport sale prompts MP’s calls for rail improvements

Stansted Airport

Stansted Airport - Credit: Archant

THE change of ownership at Stansted Airport has prompted MP Sir Alan Haselhurst to call for a more innovative approach to funding rail improvements – fearing the wrath of commuters if “grim” price increases continue without a timetable of action on the horizon.

He told the Reporter that local authorities such as Uttlesford District Council, East Hertfordshire and South Cambridgeshire should look into the possibility of funding improved rail infrastructure alongside the new owners of Stansted, Manchester Airports Group (MAG).

MAG, a holding company owned by the 10 borough councils of Greater Manchester, purchased the Uttlesford transport hub for £1.5billion last week.

Sir Alan said: “I think it’s got to at least be talked about as to whether there is a chance of producing a date when it could be thought through. If there is no timeline for it to be discussed before 2020 then I think it is going to get particularly grim with rail users experiencing increases in fares year on year.

“People can just about stomach the increases with less reluctance if they know it is going to lead to an improved railway but if nothing appears to be set in stone and the fares keep going up they’re going to get pretty annoyed.”

It follows the announcement that the London Borough of Enfield is to stump up £29million to fund a third track between Tottenham Hale and Angel Road – a move designed to speed up journeys to Stansted Airport and prevent overcrowding at London Liverpool Street.

“I’m not saying Uttlesford District Council should come up with £29m to fund another track but it is certainly something that should be talked about by local authorities in the area,” Sir Alan said.

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“East Herts and South Cambs could both look at beginning discussions with Uttlesford and the county councils in a bid to come up with a way of funding some improvements alongside the newowners of the airport, who of course will have a vested interest themselves.”

Sir Alan said he had been contacted by the chief executive of MAG, Charlie Cornish, and had asked to arrange a meeting with him to discuss rail improvements alongside a list of other key talking points when the takeover is officially completed at the end of February.

He told the Reporter he was “surprised” to hear MAG had not approached Network Rail to find out the cost of speeding up rail connections between the airport and the capital.

Establishing whether improvements are part of the group’s financial plan and pre-conceived strategy for handling Stansted will be one of his first questions.

Another will be about the possibility of adding a second rail tunnel or widening the existing one to allow for the arrival and departure of more trains into the airport.

The increased scrunity surrounding more expensive rail fares from Uttlesford to London has intensified further with the news that the award of the long-term franchise for East Anglia could be delayed by two years. It has led to fears being raised that there will be no new trains on the line until 2018.

Current rail operators Abellio, running services as Greater Anglia, have a short-term franchise which is due to run out in July 2014.

However, the collapse of the West Coast rail franchise process has forced the Department for Transport to reconsider how it awards them across the country.

Many expect the Greater Anglia franchise to be delayed, possibly by up to two years.

Suffolk county councillor with responsibility for transport Guy McGregor said such a delay would be disastrous for rail services in the region if there was no investment until the long-term franchisee was appointed.

He said: “If we don’t get the operator in place until 2016, and there is no commitment to new trains before they take over, realistically we won’t get any new trains on the line until 2018.

“That will mean there has been no substantial new investment on trains on the line for nearly a decade. With increasing demand and capacity problems that is unacceptable.”

But Sir Alan dismissed this as “pure speculation” and said at a meeting last week the Secretary of State for Transport had given him no indication there would be a delay.

He told the Reporter a decision on the matter was expected next week.

Sir Alan’s renewed call for action comes just weeks after Network Rail announced a £2.2billion pound cash injection into the East of England’s rail infrastructure over the next seven years, billed as “biggest investment in infrastructure since the Victorian era”.

Commuters have been promised a better service but Sir Alan cautioned it was important to make sure the money filtered down to improve train services in Uttlesford.