Rail travellers shun costly Heathrow link

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The Independent Online
HOLIDAYMAKERS are shunning Heathrow Express, the new rail link connecting London's Paddington station with the world's busiest airport, because of its pounds 10 fare.

Instead of using the 15-minute service, they are opting for the far slower underground train journey from central London to Heathrow which costs just pounds 3.30.

The pounds 440m service was launched amid great fanfare about its speed by Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, two months ago.

Although BAA, the airport operator which owns the service, says its state- of-the-art trains are almost full to capacity during peak periods and are attracting the projected number of business passengers, a survey of the public's attitude towards the link reveals a high level of dissatisfaction about a fare which works out at nearly 67p per minute.

The hi-tech service, on which TV screens and attentive staff create an ambience more in keeping with the airlines it feeds, aims to attract six million passengers in its first year, the equivalent of 10 per cent of all Heathrow's passengers.

But the views of some travellers, interviewed by the Independent on Sunday, indicate that the link might not find it easy to meet its target.

Kien Tan, a 24-year-old market consultant using the link, said: "I'm only using it because I've got a free trial ticket. I think pounds 10 is ridiculously expensive for such a short journey. On the positive side it is fast, clean and efficient but I don't think Paddington is very convenient for the City."

Despite the extensive sign-posting at Heathrow for the link - in the form of hundreds of small blue arrows marked on the floor proclaiming "The fastest way to London" - thousands of British and foreign passengers continue to use the Piccadilly Line.

Rufus Barnes, director of the London Regional Passengers' Committee (LRPC), says that the link would be more attractive to the public if it was part of the London Transport network. "The Government of the day [the Conservatives] decided that the Heathrow Express was going to be built as a commercial operation funded by the private sector. The level of fares reflects that thinking," he said.

Jeremy Job, marketing director for the Heathrow Express, argued that rather than competing with the Underground, the service wanted to lure people who would otherwise travel to Heathrow by car or taxi. He said there was little chance of BAA reducing the cost of tickets.

Those defending the link's cost point out that a taxi from Paddington to Heathrow would cost pounds 40 and the 12-mile journey by car would cost approximately pounds 5 in petrol. To that can be added the cost of short- and long-stay parking.