Unsurprisingly the Standard has picked up on Boris’s Magic Stealth Airport, but unusually there’s actually a picture. Whether this was done by a Standard graphics bod or crayoned by Malthouse in City Hall I have no idea. I hope it’s the former, since it’s got High Speed 1 in the wrong place, but it does help get some handle on which option they’re looking at ; the eastern (Marinair, and where Boris’s dredger went) or the western (off Sheerness, where I thought it would be based on the original ‘two miles off Sheppey’ quote).
Basically, it’s the eastern option. The rail link to HS1 is exactly where the Marinair option puts it, even if HS1 isn’t where reality puts it. The terminals are on land, one in Essex (actually, at Foulness, where the 1960s/70s project was going to be) and one at the eastern end of Sheppey. This explains why the transit times are shorter than we expected – they’ve separated the plane from the terminal by about 7 miles, and the headline figures are the transfer times by high-speed rail from London to the Sheppey terminal. They quote 7 minutes transfer time to the actual runways. The Essex terminal would presumably connect to Crossrail via Shenfield rather than Abbey Wood – that requires a rather more modest 8 or 9 mile electrified railway line plus the possible closure of Southend Victoria to make room for the trains. Extending c2c services from Shoeburyness is also possible, of course, which is only about five miles.
The runways are out at sea. A long way out at sea. In fact, they appear to be actually at the point the Brabo reached last Friday, which clears that one up – he really did go to see the white elephant. The further out they are the less birdstrike risk and environmental damage they cause, but there are limits – RAF Dogger Bank was a Cold War joke, not a suitable place for an airport. The further out you go the less protected you are from the weather, for instance, and this is a sea that eats towns. The location thus envisaged is further out than Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Basingstoke and possibly east of Colchester and Ashford. At least this means they avoid the SS Richard Montgomery by a good ten miles.
What does this mean? First, you’ve got a huge job on your transit system within the airport – at existing airports, once you’re checked in you can usually walk to the plane, give or take. At Stansted there’s a short shuttle train to most of the stands, but again it’s not far and rather a low-tech trundly thing. Heathrow T5 likewise has remote stands reached by underground train. However, here we’re talking 7 or 8 miles, quoted at 7 minutes, implying a start-to-stop average of 60mph. That’s fast. It’s quite possibly uncomfortable, too, depending on the peak speed and the deceleration required. Untried technology again, Boris?
Presumably you have to shuttle people’s bags out separately, if you really are building the terminals on land as opposed to just a transit facility between road/rail and shuttle (there are security advantages in having the tunnels airside, of course). That also requires an innovative solution – a 7 mile conveyor belt isn’t going to cut it. So you have baggage handlers at each terminal to load the bags onto baggage shuttles, which follow their owners out to the islands where (assuming they’re on the right island) more baggage handlers pull them off and put them on the aeroplane. Some transit system. Some job creation scheme.
Which brings us to another issue – how do you get workers out to the airport? Heathrow employs tens of thousands of people, who have an entire city on the doorstep to live in and direct bus, rail and tube connections from a large area of west London. Obviously here we’ve got two coastal towns in Southend and Sheerness, but that’s still a mighty old commute, and there’d have to be a substantial building programme, remembering this is way outside the Thames Gateway area. They can also only come in with the travelling public on the transit tube, as well, so you’ve got scale it for that as well as the baggage. That suggests that you’d want to keep as much of the jobs onshore with just baggage handling, marshalling, fuelling etc. offshore, which does beg the question whether travellers are expected to trundle out to the island just before or two hours before the flight. If the latter, you need the catering and shopping out there too, so your transit tube now has to be big enough to ship all the stuff for the shops, bars and cafes, with appropriate logistics staff at each end. Either way, everything has to be duplicated – it really is two airports with a terminal and two runways each.
In short, this is still fantasy stuff – is there really nowhere else in London that could use a 15-mile underground railway? Is there nowhere else in London that could use investment in new high speed rail infrastructure? Is there any appreciation of how people are expected to cross London and how much this will add to their journeys in terms of time and cost? Faced with a flight from Borisport at £50 with a £30 rail fare on top or a flight at £60 from Luton with a £15 rail fare, which will they go for? Which airline will do better, the one from Luton or the one from Borisport?
Basically, give it up now, Boris. You’ve been had again. You really must do something about your lack of any kind of experience or ability to judge truly loony schemes before you cost us a fortune. Get a proper transport advisor now.
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