Hovercoach to London Airport? BY F. K. MOSES O NE can
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hardly claim that the present links between central London and London Airport are adequate, and consequently a lot ii heard about possible alternatives to the existing roads. Proposals have included helicopters, a monorail, extending the .Piccadilly Line, and extending the Southern Region electric line. but,needless to say, not one of these proposals has been put in hand. It is true that work is in progress on the new M4 motorway which will, when completed, give the best possible road link with London, but this road will be carrying a very heavy volume of traffic from the West, not to mention the heavy local traffic from the Chiswick, Hammersmith and Cromwell Road areas, all funnelling into central London.
The development of -such an important international airport in the first place without a fast independent link with the city, and with no concrete plans for establishing such a link, was, in my opinion, very short-sighted--thotigh by no means unique where international airports are concerned. The advantages of a rail link, with automatic signalling, train control and so on, for reliable, high-speed journeys are obvious, even if beyond the scope of this journal. However, finding room for extra high-speed trains within the present crowded rail network would be a problem. A helicopter link, is perhaps, impracticable, and a monorail has been dismissed as unnecessarily expensive and not really the solution, and would, in any case, take too long to build.
It is against this background, therefore, that the proposals for an 80 m.p.h. Hovercar service between Paddington and London Airport, announced last week, giving a journey time of only 21 minutes (compared with 40-45 minutes scheduled by coach) and which could be operating within two or three years of permission being given must be welcomed. Particularly as the scheme proposed involves a method of automatic high-speed control similar to that of a modern railway to give safe and reliable running. What • is really outstanding about the Hovercar envisaged in this scheme, however, is its ability to turn into a virtually orthodox coach on arrival at the airport. It would be a truly amphibious vehicle, and, incidentally, this quality might be one answer to the concern expressed by some of its promoters that the expensive B.E.A. and B.O.A.C. West London air terminals would become redundant—they could still operate to and from these points by road until a new combined terminal was built at Paddington.
The technical features of the Hovercar service are briefly as follows: The Hovercars would be 60-passenger vehicles with space for one ton of baggage, fitted with retractable road wheels. They would travel along specially constructed concrete tracks laid along the drained Paddington branch of the Grand Union Canal (which is little used, anyway, and losing heavily), being propelled by the road wheels acting horizontally against the sides of the tiack, while the vehicles would be supported by a cushion of air. Two engines would be employed, one providing lift, and the other propulsion, total output being about 500 h.p. At the airport end of the canal. a link would be provided from Bulls Bridge Junction, where the branch meets the main Grand Union Canal to the airport by an additional two miles of concrete track, including a flyover across the motorway and A4. Having arrived at the airport, the engine providing the air cushion would be switched off, the wheels lowered automatically, and the Hovercar would become a coach to be driven normally.
It is estimated that 65 Hovercars would be needed to provide the service, each one costing about £20,000, and weighing 15 tons, and the total cost of the project is estimated at £7 m.—considerably less than the monorail proposals. One advantage is that the canal-bed tracks could be of comparatively light construction because the load of the car would be spread evenly over the surface by the cushion, of air on which it rides. Automatic control would be achieved by a complex electronic signalling system, with pulsed signals fed along the track to adjust the speed of cars so accurately that they could safely operate at intervals of 40 seconds, whatever the weather. 'Ibis latter factor is important, with the pending introduction of automatic landing devices at the airport.
One of the disadvantages of Hovercraft, which normally operate over water, has been the volume of noise created, and this is one of the reasons for draining the canal and providing special concrete tracks. It is claimed that their operation on the special track mould give a very smooth and quiet ride.
This is one 'scheme which I do believe deserves serious study—it is not merely "pie in the sky ". And it is a scheme which is demanding the attention of some Of the " best " brains. It is promoted by a group of experts headed by the architect, Lord Bossom, chairman of Airway Transport Ltd., a company formed to carry out the project. The National Research'Development Council, John Brown and Co., Westland Aircraft Ltd. (Saunders-Roe division) and Hovercraft DeveloPment Ltd. are all actively engaged irt the Project, and the Ministry of Transport are reported to be seriously interested too. Perhaps Mr. Marples" airport trailers will not be required after all!