BAA rail-link plans lift off after Heathrow fire setback

Last month's fire at Heathrow's Terminal One lost BAA 50,000 passengers, the airports operator, said yesterday. But on a brighter note, the company unveiled plans to launch a forerunner to its pounds 440m Heathrow Express rail link later this month. The Heathrow fire, which started in the ducting of a Burger King bar in Terminal One, left a large dent in BAA's passenger figures for December. The group's seven airports handled a record total of 103.3 million passengers for the year - an increase of 6.7 per cent on 1996. But the growth in passenger numbers for December was only half that at 3.4 per cent.

Another factor affecting passenger growth last month was the blaze inside the Channel tunnel a year earlier which had resulted in an extra 100,000 passengers in December, 1996. BAA also experienced a sharp decline in travel by East Asian passengers because of the economic crisis in the Far East. This resulted in a loss of about 75,000 passengers.

The biggest traffic growth over the year was at Stansted where passenger numbers rose 11.5 per cent to 5.37 million, closely followed by Gatwick where traffic levels rose 11.2 per cent to 26.8 million.

The Heathrow Express is not due to open until June. It will cut the journey time from the airport into Paddington station to 15 minutes.

However, BAA is launching what it calls a FastTrain service from 19 January which will take 30 minutes. Passengers will travel on new trains from Paddington to a dedicated station near Heathrow where passengers will complete the journey by coach. For the first week, travel will be free. After that a one-way fare will cost pounds 5.

The full Heathrow Express service will operate four times an hour and is part of BAA's strategy to increase the number of passengers travelling by public transport to 50 per cent.

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