St Albans and Harpenden commuters fear airport expansion will harm train services
- Credit: Archant
St Albans and Harpenden commuter groups are concerned that Luton Airport’s expansion will put increased pressure on rail services.
Luton Airport's operating company, London Luton Airport Operations Ltd, has recently appointed a new chairman, Keith Ludeman, who previously worked in the rail industry as senior independent director of Network Rail, chairman of HS1, Thameslink's managing director and the chairman of the Association of Train Operating Companies.
His appointment comes at a time when Luton Borough Council is proposing to expand the airport to 32 million passengers per year, and commuter groups fear that the expansion will further disrupt Thameslink train services into London.
According to commuters, the low percentage of passengers and staff using public transport to get to and from the airport is a major obstruction to the expansion plan. Luton Airport has long been lobbying the government for a regular express train between the airport and St Pancras station, similar to services to and from Gatwick and Heathrow.
A statement from the airport said: "LLA [London Luton Airport] is the only London airport without a direct express-style rail service. LLA is therefore calling on the government to introduce four trains per hour as part of the re-franchising of the East Midlands rail line."
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In April, the East Midlands line franchisee Abellio committed to only one train per hour in the future, causing commuters to fear that the burden will be taken by Thameslink. They also suspect that Keith was appointed to influence train operators to prioritise a fast airport service over the needs of daily commuters.
Emily Ketchin, founder of Harpenden Thameslink Commuters Group, said: "Luton expansion is a further concern for commuters. For 12 months Harpenden commuters have had to endure fewer services - whilst Thameslink, by its own admission, run half empty trains which now skip Harpenden.
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"Restoring essential commuter services to the promised levels has to be the priority before anyone can even consider additional stops at the airport. It would be absurd to prioritise an increase of capacity at the airport over getting people to work every day."
Other St Albans and Harpenden residents have also expressed concerns about the expansion's impact on traffic around the airport, and about aircraft noise pollution from low-flying planes.
Herts county councillor Annie Brewster, representing Harpenden Rural, said: "Hertfordshire cannot cope with this sort of expansion. Luton Airport has not been able to offer mitigation for its last expansion; congested road links from the east, railway at capacity and planes kept low for too long due to Heathrow flights having priority at higher altitudes.
"Before any further expansion is considered, Luton Airport should successfully complete the improvement it already has permission for, including the new Dart rail link into the airport, rather than racing for more airspace with no feasible mitigation for Hertfordshire residents."
Addressing Cllr Brewster and the commuters' concerns, an LLA spokesman said: "Keith Ludeman brings extensive experience and expertise in the transport and infrastructure sectors which will be valuable to all aspects of the airport's operation.
"It's simply untrue to suggest he's been asked to look at local train services. Given that large numbers of local residents work at and fly from the airport, it is in everyone's interest that any future transport enhancements benefit our local communities."
According to LLA, Mr Ludeman will be "instrumental" in steering the airport as it enters the new phase of its expansion.
CEO Alberto Martin said: "He will be a great addition to the board, bringing valuable knowledge and experience as we move into a new phase, which is focused on creating a world class experience for passengers and ensuring sustainable growth for our community as we continue to meet the ongoing demand for aviation capacity."
Mr Ludeman is joining the airport following the completion of a £160 million transformation project in December last year, and a period of record growth in passenger numbers.
He said: "I am looking forward to working with the board and airport team to help guide the business through a new post-transformation phase as we work to establish our status as a leading UK airport that is first choice for passengers, good for the community and a vital asset to the UK."