Assessing airport surface access

Assessing airport surface access

Will Crossrail improve travel times to Heathrow and Gatwick airports?

Heathrow and Gatwick airports are hot on the agenda, given that both airports are on the Airports Commission’s shortlist as possible sites for new runway capacity in the South East, with a decision due after the election.

With this potential increase in capacity, it is therefore of the upmost importance to improve accessibility to both airports, particularly by public transport to reduce car emissions and improve sustainability.

Crossrail, which will extend across London, has the potential to do this. From 2019 its western section will run to Heathrow and Reading, providing four trains hourly to the airport in addition to the current Heathrow Express service. Though Crossrail will not directly serve Gatwick, it was worth assessing to see whether it improves accessibility at all, particularly for those travelling across London to get to Gatwick.


We undertook a study using our multi-modal accessibility planning tool, Visography TRACC, to analyse how Crossrail, once fully operational, will affect travel times and accessibility to both Heathrow and Gatwick.

For this study public transport data for bus, coach, National Rail, light rail, tube and tram was sourced from the latest NPTDR dataset. TRACC was used to model the Crossrail route and its services (assumed to be four trains an hour during the peak times and two an hour during the off-peak). Road network data was sourced from the Ordnance Survey’s vector map dataset, Meridian2, and a 350m origin grid was used. The destinations were plotted using TRACC’s draw tool at the approximate terminal entrance points.

TRACC calculated travel time from each origin point to all destinations on a Tuesday between 10am and 2pm, showing accessibility to both airports, before and after Crossrail.

THE RESULTS: Heathrow Vs Gatwick


Figure 1: Contour showing travel times to Heathrow and Gatwick once Crossrail is fully operational

The latest Census data from 2011 was imported into TRACC to produce demographic data reports, assessing the total population affected by Crossrail:-

Terminal Total Journey Time Total Population Before Total Population After Additional Population % Change in Population     ___________  Terminal Total Journey Time Total Population Before Total Population After Additional Population % Change in Population
Heathrow T1, T2, T3 30 minutes 240261 263776 23515 9.8 Gatwick North 30 minutes 28472 28472 0 0
60 minutes 3527834 3624989 97155 2.8 60 minutes 725208 725208 0 0
90 minutes 9036534 9164589 128055 1.4 90 minutes 5848755 5854989 6235 0.1
120 minutes 13740065 13751735 11670 0.1 120 minutes 11305847 11315852 10005 0.1
Heathrow T4 30 minutes 229911 265906 35995 15.7 Gatwick South 30 minutes 81819 81819 0 0
60 minutes 2788401 2933550 145149 5.2 60 minutes 1471406 1471406 0 0
90 minutes 8143252 8273792 130540 1.6 90 minutes 7312703 7323591 10888 0.1
120 minutes 12658716 12694379 35663 0.3 120 minutes 12311728 12338419 26691 0.2
Heathrow T5 30 minutes 207388 208954 1566 0.8
60 minutes 2808362 2829417 21054 0.7
90 minutes 8543897 8642864 98967 1.2
120 minutes 13207212 13211877 4666 0


Heathrow Terminals 1-3 and 4, which will both have Crossrail stations, will experience the greatest improvements in accessibility, particularly within a 30 minute period. Terminal 5 will not have a Crossrail station, and the increase will be much smaller. Nevertheless, the overall improvements in travel times are particularly relevant given the proposals for additional runway capacity at Heathrow.

TRACC shows that Gatwick is unlikely to experience any improvement in accessibility within the 30 and 60 minute time band. However, accessibility to Gatwick does improve when looking at travels times of up to 90 and 120 minutes, particularly for the South terminal, which is closer to Gatwick Airport railway station than the North terminal.

HS2 plans also show a spur into Heathrow, with the potential to further improve accessibility, and plans are also under consideration for Crossrail2 which will improve accessibility into Surrey. However, neither of these plans focus specifically on accessibility to Gatwick, highlighting that the airport should be considered in future transport infrastructure plans, particularly if it is chosen as the site of an additional runway.

For a detailed look, please view the full case study or you can read up on how Transport Times reported on this case study in their recent publication.

2nd March 2015