Travel: Railways - Rail to runway

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Gatwick has the best rail links of any UK airport. From Monday, Thameslink will get you there from London Bridge in an impressive 26 minutes, eclipsing the Gatwick Express. But the new rail timetable shows the others catching up fast.

Stansted, from where Go started flights yesterday, used to be served by one train a day from Birmingham; somewhat inconveniently, it arrived after all the flights had left. From Monday, hourly services will connect the Essex airport with Cambridge, Leicester and Birmingham.

East Midlands airport, fearsomely difficult to reach without a car, last Monday finally achieved a regular bus link with the nearest station, Loughborough. Travellers were previously assured that such a link existed, even though it didn't.

Anyone reading the new timetable and planning to catch the 9.54am from Brighton to Luton airport will be unamused when it sails straight through the yet-to-be-completed station; the pounds 12m project should be ready some time this summer.

More ghost trains appear in the Heathrow Express timetable, which promises 15-minute links from London Paddington to Terminals 1, 2 and 3 (Terminal 4 is six minutes farther on). The service is not due to be opened until a month from today; currently travellers are required to take a rail/bus connection. In the arcane world of those who are riveted by the subject of rail-air links, rumours are circulating that trains will be running to and from the airport before then.

After Tony Blair conducts the opening ceremony on 23 June, the Heathrow Express will become easily the most expensive railway in Britain. The second-class fare is pounds 10, working out at 67 pence a mile - more than twice the rate on the next most expensive, the Gatwick Express.

Not every train operator sees air passengers as easy money, though. For the same pounds 10, you can travel all the way from Euston to Manchester airport on North Western Trains - nearly 200 miles. The absurdly good-value new direct train could mean the North's leading airport steals passengers from its rivals in the South-east.

The worst rail-air link in Britain, and the world, remains the one to Teesside airport. If you've missed the 10.17am train there from Darlington this morning, you must wait a week for the next one.

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