Airport Connectivity – comparison

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The recently announced proposals to create a parkway railway station on the Harrogate line to serve Leeds Bradford Airport has been criticised by a number of  people who have promoted a number of alternative schemes. A common line is that this is not competitive compared to other airports that boast better connectivity. Although these comments are understandable, it is important to understand the context of Leeds Bradford Airport compared to the airports that are being used for comparison.

All airports bigger than Leeds Bradford Airport have better public transport!

Leeds-Bradford Airport is 15th largest airport in the UK. Seven of the airports in the top 15, including Leeds-Bradford airport currently do not have some form of direct rail link, where you can walk/receive free assisted travel from the station to the airport terminal.

Airports without a rail connection are all building a rail connection. LBA cannot be left behind!

All of these airports without a direct rail link are considering improvements to rail based access although only two have a fully funded proposal with an estimated opening date.

  • Luton are intending to construct an automated guided people mover linking the railway station to the airport terminal, replacing the current bus link from the Airport Parkway railway station
  • Glasgow is proposing to use Tram-Trains to access the airport.
  • Belfast Int, Liverpool and Bristol are considering direct rail links to their respective city centres.
  • Leeds-Bradford is considering a parkway railway station approximately 1.5 miles from the airport terminal.
  • East Midlands International Airport are considering a rail link to the new HS2 station at Toton.

Airports with good rail connections have more people using public transport to access them!

The CAA data about the split between public and private transport used to access a number of airports offers interesting insight into the relative success of surface public transport options to airports based on the modal split.
The airports with a direct rail link usually have more public transport use than those without a direct rail link.

Luton (the only major London airport without a direct rail link to the terminal) recorded the worst public-private transport ratio of the London airports.

Regional airports challenged this hypothesis because Manchester had a worse ratio than Liverpool and Bristol despite a railway station and tram stop that served most of the airports hinterland.

What does LBA need?

The top 15 data shows that Leeds Bradford has 3.5 million passengers per annum. This makes it a small airport compared to the other airports mentioned above who have been able to become larger than Leeds without a rail connection. They have been able to improve their services to meet the demand of passengers and workers travelling to the airport.

The proposal for a parkway station is not unusual. The best comparison for Leeds Bradford Airport is Luton Airport. Luton was a similar sized airport to Leeds Bradford in the mid nineties when it embarked on an ambitious expansion plan that included a railway station on the railway line two miles from the airport terminal with a bus link connecting the railway station to the airport.This railway station was opened in 1999, with trains on the Thameslink commuter line. Passenger use has increased to 14 million passengers per annum and the private transport percentage of passengers is 2.5 times that of Leeds-Bradford airport (table 7.1 and 7.2 CAA’s 2014 Passenger Survey Report)

Top 15 airports data

Heathrow Airport

75m passengers per annum

Present links

Heathrow Express – 15 minute frequency train service taking 15 minutes to Terminals 2/3.

Heathrow Connect – 30 minute frequency stopping service

London Underground – every 10 minutes or better

Bus and Coach station connecting destinations all over the UK.


A number of proposals have been made to improve access to Heathrow Airport.

Crossrail – due to open in 2018, this route will increase the frequency of trains to London and serve destinations through central and east London.

Western Access to Heathrow – expected to be completed in the early 2020s, this link will offer additional destinations including Reading, the west of England, south Wales and even Birmingham and Milton Keynes.

Southern Access to Heathrow – this is being heavily promoted with suggestions to run via Feltham into London Waterloo

Gatwick Airport

42m passengers per annum

Present links

Gatwick Airport railway station, with Gatwick Express operating to London. Thameslink, Southern and Great Western offer additional destinations.


The Thameslink upgrade will offer more destinations from Gatwick Airport.

Manchester Airport

25 million passengers per annum

Present links

Four platform railway station with trains to Manchester, Liverpool, Crewe, Leeds and other destinations across the north of England.

Tram line as part of Manchester Metrolink.


Railway station served by HS2

Extend the tram line back to Manchester

Extend the railway line to the west so that trains can access Manchester Airport railway station from Chester


24 million passengers per annum

Present links

Railway station with 15 minute frequency and journey time of every 47 minutes to London. Other services to Cambridge, Peterborough and Birmingham.


14 million passengers per annum

Present links

Railway station two miles away with direct link to London on Thameslink network. Buses operate the final journey two miles to the airport.


An automated link to replace the bus link is being tendered and expected to open in the early 2020’s.


12 million passengers per annum

Present links

Terminus on the Edinburgh tram line. Offers connectivity to most of Scotland through Edinburgh Gateway, Edinburgh Park, Haymarket and Edinburgh Waverley railway stations.


The tram line opened in May 2014. Proposals in the past have included a railway station under the airport.


11 million passengers per annum

Present links

A short AirRail link covers 585 metres between the railway station and the airport. Birmingham International offers links to Birmingham, London and destinations across the UK.

Future proposals

A station serving HS2 is proposed near the airport.


9 million passengers per annum

Present links

24 hour express bus to Glasgow centre

Local bus serves nearest railway station

Future links

A light rail link between Paisley Gilmour Street and Glasgow Airport has been approved as part of the City Deal. The link will be used by Tram Trains and is expected to open during the early 2020’s

Bristol Airport

7 million passengers per annum

Present links

Buses serve Bristol (up to every 8 minutes), Bath and Cardiff.


West of England LEP have proposed a heavy or light rail link to the airport as part of £7.5bn of public transport investment in the west of England.

Belfast International

5 million passengers per annum


Upto three buses per hour serving Belfast city centre taking 30-45 minutes


A rail link has been proposed and it was debated in the Irish parliament in September 2016.

Newcastle Airport

4.7 million passengers per annum

Present links

Tyne and Wear Metro line to Newcastle every 12 minutes taking approx 25 minutes.

Liverpool John Lennon Airport

4.7 million passengers per annum


Express bus service to Liverpool takes under 40 minutes every half an hour. Same bus serves Liverpool South Parkway railway station in 11 minutes


A recent report suggested a rail link to Liverpool Airport.

East Midlands International

4.6 million passengers per annum


Buses running up to every 20 minutes 24/7 serve Derby, Nottingham, Loughborough and Leicester with a scheduled hourly service to East Midlands Parkway nearby

London City

4.5 million passengers per annum


Docklands Light Railway offers links towards Stratford and Bank


Passive provision has been left for a railway station on the Crossrail line nearby.


3.5 million passengers per annum


Bus taking up to 50 minutes running every 20 minutes


Leeds City Council intend to build railway station on the nearby Harrogate line. A light rail line has also been suggested.


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