Branson plans airport rail link

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The Independent Online
Railtrack yesterday confirmed that it has had talks with Richard Branson's Virgin group over plans for a rail service linking the City of London directly with Heathrow Airport.

A pounds 200,000 study by consultants Steer, Davies, Gleave, commissioned by Virgin, suggests that the link, using mostly existing track, could be built for as little as pounds 50m and would provide a 34-minute service between Moorgate in the City and the airport once the Heathrow Express to and from Paddington is completed in 1998. Virgin City Linkwould use existing lines from Moorgate to King's Cross Thameslink and then the North London line, before linking up with the pounds 300m Heathrow Express route.

Virgin hopes its line can be completed to open at the same time as - or shortly after - the Heathrow Express. Mr Branson met the Secretary of State for Transport, Sir George Young, last month to outline his plans for what would be the first rail service under the "open access" rules created by the rail privatisation act.

Virgin is also in talks with the officials of the offices of both the Rail Regulator and the Franchising Director. A spokesman for Virgin said: "We are about halfway through the assessment of whether the project is viable. Everyone is very supportive but no one thought of the plan before. About half the cost of the line would go on infrastructure and then new trains would have to be leased."

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