Heathrow to Swansea western rail link could be completed by 2021

Network Rail revealed on February 5 that it had developed plans for a new rail link between Reading and Slough on the Great Western Main Line to London Heathrow airport.

The Western Rail Access to Heathrow study was undertaken in response to a request from the government in which they expressed support for the plan in July 2012.

Heathrow Express train on similar lines to Swansea

Network Rail had taken into consideration four separate plans before opting for a junction between Langley and Iver stations as well as a 5 km tunnel to Terminal 5 at the airport.

A steering group consisting of Network Rail, the Department for Transport, Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Slough Borough Council and Heathrow Airport is now working to develop the scheme.

The new link will make it possible for businesses to connect directly with Heathrow, which would open up fresh opportunities for trade abroad and make it considerably faster and easier for leisure travellers to catch flights.

It also will mean that passengers in Cardiff and Swansea could have their travel time to Heathrow decrease by up to 45 minutes and 53 minutes respectively to get to Heathrow.

Travellers originating in Reading could possibly have as much as 27 minutes shaved off their journey. Subject to a satisfactory business case and agreement of terms with the aviation industry, planning authorisation could be sought.

If granted, Network Rail would most likely begin rail construction at the end of 2016, with construction of the 5km tunnel beginning in early 2018. The project could tentatively be completed in 2021.

Watch this space but it looks like getting from Heathrow to Swansea is going to get easier and easier!

League table for airline noise revealed today

Noise levels near airports are a headache for local residents and also one of the biggest factors in the controversy of whether Heathrow should get a third runway.

This summer the Fly Quiet survey tested noise levels from fifty airlines using Heathrow over the period July to September, with a view to naming and shaming the worst offenders. The ignominy of noisiest airline went to the Polish carrier LOT, with Israel’s El Al and Thai Airways coming close behind.

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Can Couriers really be cheaper than checking-in luggage?

Louis Vitton hand luggage for checking-in at Heathrow Airport

If you are happy to travel light there are some great bargain airfares to be found with the budget airlines and you avoid checking-in luggage. However, if you are travelling as a family, or have sports equipment that you need at your destination, it is sometimes just not possible to avoid checking luggage into the hold and that is where the charges start to add up.

With some airlines charging passengers £35 to check-in a suitcase and an eye-watering £500 to carry a bag of golf clubs weighing up to 30kg, it should perhaps come as no surprise that it is often cheaper to use a courier service.

Crazy though it sounds, passengers can save hundreds of pounds by using services such as FetchMy or MyParcelDelivery to transport their baggage to their holiday destination.

At the weekend the press found various examples of the savings that could be made on travelling with and checking-in luggage, taken from research carried out by Which? magazine.

For instance, a golfer travelling on Ryanair from London to Malaga could pay as little as £140 using a courier, as compared to the £500 charged by the airline. If the passenger were flying with FlyBe the saving would be £196.

Savings of various amounts would also be made if travelling with Jet2, Monarch or Thomson.

Looking at suitcases, the savings are less. A passenger travelling to Rome would save £12 (£23 by courier as opposed to the £35 charged by Ryanair).

The downside of using a courier service is that it will normally take at least three working days for the baggage to arrive and not all hotels will be able or willing to accept delivery.

Heathrow looks at rural Buckinghamshire for new airport

Heathrow is looking at areas in rural Buckinghamshire and Berkshire for possible expansion of its west London base.

Having faced strong opposition to expansion of the existing site over aircraft noise, the airport is doubtless looking for a softer target, a fact that will be seen as a major victory by activists.

However residents’ indignation is likely to run equally high, say councillors representing the two proposed areas. Continue reading…

Olympic terminal opened at Heathrow

Work on a new terminal at Heathrow has been completed in time for the Olympic Games. The terminal has been designed exclusively for athletes and officials of the Games, the majority of whom will be returning during a three-day window from August 12 to August 15, in order to take the pressure off the airport and reduce passenger congestion.

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BAA spends half a million on snowploughs

In the UK, the past two winters have caused chaos at airports, on motorways, and just about everywhere else, as heavy snows and freezing temperatures descended on the country in December, January, and February. In short, we all hate it when the weather disrupts flight from Heathrow.

This year, despite the lessons of previous winters, Britain is still strangely unable to cope with snow and ice.

Snowplough working through the weather disruption at Heathrow

The exception to the rule is perhaps London’s first airport, Heathrow. The hub recently spent £500,000 on ‘winter-proofing’ the runway. The shopping spree, which included the purchase of snowploughs and de-icing machines, is a response to snow-related closures in the winter of 2008.

Heathrow now has 69 vehicles on its Snow Team (including the new Heathrow Snowploughs), with 500,000 litres of de-icing fluid at their disposal.

The team appears to be an enhanced maintenance crew, enjoying mundane duties, such as cleaning debris from the runway, as well as specialist winter tasks, like scrubbing snow from the apron.

David Whittington, chief of airside operations at the London airport, noted that runways are always cleared first, followed by taxiways. “We’ve got up to 200 aircraft coming toward Heathrow at any one time, so we have to make sure that we have a platform for them to land on."

Aircraft are also employed to clear snow from the runway. The engines of departing planes produce a great deal of heat, which can melt icy patches in seconds.

However, planes will not normally be allowed to take off if weather conditions present a serious threat to life and wing, ensuring that this tactic can only be used in minor flurries.

Plane stopped by the weather disruptions at Heathrow

Heathrow claims to be the only UK hub not to experience closures in winter 2009, and the airport is still performing admirably against Mother Nature, surviving the recent snowstorm without closing its doors.

However, with 3 months of winter still waiting on the other side of the calendar, the Snow Team is likely to have its mettle tested on more than one occasion before the daffodils reappear in the spring.

Heathrow bags ‘drenched in sewage’

Disembarking your flight to discover that your suitcase has been sent to an airport in Moldova is arguably the worst thing that can happen to an air traveller, unless you were at Heathrow Airport on November 7.

Hundreds of suitcases and rucksacks were destroyed at the hub’s Terminal 1, after a sewage pipe burst. “It was a nightmare,” one witness said. “Gallons of raw sewage came spewing out. The stench was appalling.”

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Ears could provide new security measure

Listen to this! Ears could be the new front-runners in identification at Heathrow Airport Security…

We have all heard of finger printing and iris recognition being used instead of the good old passport photo to combat security threats and illegal immigration problems at British airports.

Three different ears as identification with the new Heathrow Airport scanners

Now scientists at Southampton University’s school of electronics and computer science have suggested that our ears may provide an even more reliable means of ID, with an accuracy rate of 99.6%.

Each one of us has a uniquely shaped ear and it is now possible to scan them accurately and compare them with a database of images.

The technology works by mapping features of the ear such as wrinkles, curves, cartilage, and lobes using something called "image ray transform".

Various ears being used as practice on the new Heathrow Airport Scanners

All UK passports now have enough space to hold biometric information, so it would be possible to add details of holders’ ears if this method were to be introduced. Stansted airport has been conducting trials of facial recognition and retina scanning over the last two years but has encountered several problems.

Technology cannot cope with facial expressions or even, in some instances, make up, whilst crow’s feet can also be a major problem.

Ears on the other hand (and no pun is intended here) apparently “age gracefully”. Your ears stay the same shape from birth, apart from the fact that they grow proportionately as you age and the lobes elongate slightly.

Whilst Professor Mark Nixon of Southampton University is very excited about the discovery, the Home Office is being a little more cautious, saying that whilst they welcome new and innovative technology, there are no set plans at the moment to pursue the idea at British airports.