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Tuesday, June 23, 1998 Published at 06:40 GMT 07:40 UK


Heathrow Express takes off

The Heathrow Express uses purpose-built, modern trains

The prime minister climbed on board Britain's latest high-speed railway when he launched a new express link between London and Heathrow.

The BBC's Simon Montague: "Critics say the £10 one-way fare is too expensive"
Tony Blair officially opened the £450m Heathrow Express at London's Paddington station.

The privately-financed rail connection slashes the journey time from the West End to Heathrow airport from nearly an hour to just 15 minutes.

Aimed at business travellers, the 100mph service runs every 15 minutes and is expected to draw six million passengers a year. Estimates say it remove 3,000 vehicles a day on the roads to Heathrow.

[ image: Trains pull into stations 30 metres below ground]
Trains pull into stations 30 metres below ground
But with tickets priced at £10 for a one-way trip, the service has already been heavily criticised as too expensive and exclusive.

It has been called the most expensive railway in the world and costs more per mile than a trip on Concorde.

Airport operator BAA - which has built the link - has defended the price, saying the service is mainly pitched at business executives and that £10 is a competitive figure.

Mr Blair's involvement in the launch has also come under fire from Friends of the Earth, which has accused him returning favours to BAA and British Airways.

The environmental group said he was making a "celebratory appearance" as part of a "series of favours" Labour was giving in return for the two firms' financial support for the Millennium Dome.

[ image: The high ticket price has been criticised]
The high ticket price has been criticised
But the operators are keen to stress the service's environmental credentials. Tunnel ventilation shafts are disguised as farmyard barns. BAA has planted 18,000 trees and erected a one-metre thick "green wall" to deaden the noise.

The service is made up of 14 purpose-built trains which seat up to 400 people and provide extensive storage space for luggage. Passengers can watch a television news service on board, supplied by the BBC.

Five-mile tunnel

The trains arrive at a station serving terminals 1, 2 and 3 at Heathrow, before going on to a new terminal 4 station in another five to six minutes.

The trains run along 12 miles of electrified track from Paddington before entering a five-mile tunnel that sweeps under the airport to the new stations.

Hand luggage-only plane passengers travelling with British Airways, British Midland and American Airlines can check in at Paddington.

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