Heathrow rail link may be delayed

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The Independent Online
THE OPENING of the rail link between London and Heathrow airport seems certain to be delayed beyond the original 1997 target date after negotiators failed to reach an agreement yesterday, writes Christian Wolmar.

The talks between the Government, the chairmen of British Rail and British Airports Authority, which owns Heathrow, had been called by John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, in an effort to resolve disputes over funding and use of the line.

BR sources said that the talks over the pounds 300m link, which had been close to breakdown, 'were now looking more promising. We are slightly more optimistic.' However, no date has been set for further talks.

The 14-minute service from Paddington, west London, covering 16 miles of track, was due to begin operating by 1997, but a start on the scheme has been delayed by the dispute between BAA and BR, which centres on charges for using the track. BR wants BAA to pay pounds 6m a year to use 12 miles of existing track, which it would have to share with InterCity.

A BR source said: 'We don't know what track-charging regime will be put forward by the Government for privatisation and we are worried that if we give BAA an easy ride, it will set a precedent for other users.'

BAA wants to pay marginal costs for using the track which it hopes will carry between 6 million and 7 million passengers per year.

Rail warning, page 23