News: Gold leaf on the tracks

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The Independent Travel

Two weekends from now, Britain's priciest railway - the Heathrow Express - gets trumped. When the summer timetable comes into effect on Sunday 12 June, a three-mile, six-minute train ride will cost an astonishing £12, making it the most expensive rail trip in the world.

Two weekends from now, Britain's priciest railway - the Heathrow Express - gets trumped. When the summer timetable comes into effect on Sunday 12 June, a three-mile, six-minute train ride will cost an astonishing £12, making it the most expensive rail trip in the world.

The journey is on a new service, called Heathrow Connect. Like the Heathrow Express, this train starts in Paddington. But it calls at intermediate stations in west London on the line to the airport. The closest station to Heathrow is Hayes & Harlington, from which the one-way fare is £12.

For comparison, the fare for the 15-mile trip on the Heathrow Express to the airport from London Paddington is £14.

Perversely, National Rail Enquiries is telling callers - and prospective travellers who check the fare online - that the fare to Heathrow from Hayes & Harlington is even more: £17.50 each way, with a "bargain" cheap day return at £30.20, which works out at £5 per mile.

A series of test calls all confirmed the £17.50 fare. "It's a very popular route", was the explanation from one National Rail Enquiries operator. But buying the ticket (right), the fare fell to only £12. This represents a price-per-mile of £4 - three times more costly than Concorde, when the supersonic jet was still flying.

The new link, which runs every half-hour, is part of a plan to boost the number of airline passengers who reach the airport by rail - and to persuade staff to travel by train.

The leading train commentator Christian Wolmar said, "I'm flabbergasted. Surely the only way to get people to use this train is to price it reasonably. Presumably they'll be running a lot of empty trains."

A considerably cheaper option is to catch the 140 bus. It runs eight times an hour from outside Hayes & Harlington, reaching the airport in half an hour, for £1.20.

TRAVELLERS TO the busiest airport in Wales are to benefit from a revived rail link, which will operate at much more reasonable prices. A new station, with the cumbersome name of Rhoose Cardiff International Airport, is to open on the Vale of Glamorgan line between Cardiff and Bridgend - which last had a passenger train service in 1964.

The journey from Cardiff to Rhoose will take half an hour, for a reasonable one-way fare of £3.60. Once there, a seven-minute bus connection takes passengers to the airport. Unlike most airport links elsewhere in Britain, this is hardly a high-frequency service; there will be one train an hour from Monday to Saturday, and one every two hours on Sundays. But it is better served than Durham-Tees Valley airport, which has just one train a week.

PASSENGERS intending to use the Heathrow Express in July or August can save cash by booking online by next Tuesday, 31 May. The standard return fare of £25 is reduced by £2.50.

If you are not sure when exactly you will be travelling, bear in mind that tickets are valid for one month from the issue date; so you could book for 1 July, and use the ticket any day in that month.

www.heathrowexpress.com

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