Blair prefers airport rail link to Tube

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TONY BLAIR lavished praise yesterday on a futuristic pounds 570m high- speed link between central London and Heathrow airport while taking a swipe at the ailing Tube service.

Launching the Heathrow Express service, the Prime Minister hailed the new trains as "comfortable and modern" and added: "The service will transform people's first impressions of London. We don't want their first experience to be the worst aspects of Tube travel. We can give them a better picture of London than that."

Mr Blair said his experience of the ride on the Tube's dilapidated Piccadilly line to Heathrow was shaped by the journeys he made as a lowly Labour MP from his then home near Arsenal football ground to the airport in the Eighties.

The often overcrowded Tube trains - which take at least 50 minutes to reach central London - cannot match the spacious carriages of the 100mph Heathrow Express service. The modern design of the new trains, which run every 15 minutes, incorporates television screens and purpose built luggage space.

These luxuries do not come cheap. The 15-mile journey from London's Paddington station to Heathrow is the most expensive train trip in Britain. At pounds 40, the first-class return fare is mile for mile more expensive than Concorde. Even the cheapest fare - pounds 10 - is three times the price of a Tube ticket.

The company defended the ticket prices, saying it had "market-tested" the fares.

Rail experts defended the Underground. "The Government has not put any more money into the London Underground which desperately needs it," said Mel Holley, deputy editor of Rail magazine. "Heathrow Express only delays dealing with the Underground. Travellers arriving at Paddington will have to lug the baggage to the Tube station there anyway."

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