Heathrow Extension 40th

Heathrow Extension 40th

This weekend (16 December) its the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Piccadilly Line’s extension to Heathrow. Previously it had opened between Hounslow West and Hatton Cross on 19 July 1975, heralding the first new tube since the Victoria Line.

Prior to the Heathrow line’s opening, one had to get the A1 express bus from Hounslow West. When the line was extended to Hatton Cross the A1 operated from this new station in order to continue the onwards link with the main airport area. This state of affairs continued until December 1977 when the line was finally completed and opened to Heathrow Central.

The main entrance to Heathrow Central/T 1, 2 ,3.

The Heathrow tube now under construction. Poster from the 1970s. Source: Twitter.

The line from Hatton Cross to Heathrow was constructed with the help of tunnel shields (apart from Heathrow Central/Terminals 1, 2, 3, which was built using the box method. The earlier section from Hounslow West was built by cut and cover, made possible only because the lie of the land above was alongside the area’s main roads.

TfL info panel at Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3 re the 1977 opening.

The opening of the Heathrow extension in 1977 was a historic occasion, being very the last occasion the Queen opened a new tube line, although she has continued to participate in other official duties related to London’s transport system.

When the loop line to Terminal Four came on stream Heathrow Central became known as Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 and 3. The loop to T4 was opened by Prince Charles and Princess Diana on 1st April 1986.

The first section of the new extension from Hounslow West to Hatton Cross was opened in 1975.

On the opening day itself, the Queen travelled between Hatton Cross and Heathrow Central. The driver was Charles Belcher (or Belsher) and the official was J.Graeme Bruce, at the time the Chief Operating Manager (Railways) to London Transport. Bruce’s job was limited to the few minutes during which the Queen travelled in the cab of the opening train. The tweet below shows the Queen in the train’s cab at Hatton Cross prior to departure for Heathrow.

The Queen opens the new line to Heathrow Central. Source: Twitter.

Prior to the Royal opening there had been a strike by LT engineers and many of the escalators on the new line were not quite ready. However two escalators were made complete and in full working order for the Queen’s visit.

The Queen opens the new line in 1977. Source: Twitter.

A better view of the Queen in the 73 tube stock cab as she arrives at Heathrow. Source: Twitter. (Note: The account has now been deleted thus a screencap is used.)

Upon arrival at Heathrow Central just after noon, the Queen officiated in further ceremonies and was given demonstrations on the workings of the new ticket barriers and the information panel, known as a passenger route indicator. Despite the latter being demonstrated to the Queen, it was available in two European languages only, one of which was German.

The Queen opens the electronic gates at the new Heathrow Central station in 1977. Source: Twitter. (Note: The tweet has now been deleted thus a screencap is used.)

Ironically The Queen had earlier also saw the failings of the system when the machines refused to accept the official Royal party’s tickets at Hatton Cross. A reception in Terminal One followed the official opening ceremonies.

Although there was a plaque commemorating the opening of the extension and Heathrow Central station, its no longer anywhere to be seen. Staff informed me they did not know of its whereabouts.

The Heathrow Passenger Route Indicator in action. Source: Twitter.

Tom Eckerlsey’s iconic murals (representing the tail of Concorde) at Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 3.

Compared to the Victoria Line the new Hatton Cross and Heathrow stations were a different build with larger spaces and better passenger distribution areas. In other words the station platforms were unique on the underground in being entirely open plan rather than within a pair of tunnels.

Considerably spacious platforms at Hatton Cross.

The only time this was done is when Charles Holden designed the stations at Redbridge and Gants Hill in the 1940s. The Jubilee Line (Bond Street to Charing Cross) reverted to the old style of station tunnel with limited passenger distribution areas. It was not until this was extended eastwards that traditional tube station design was ended entirely, so the Heathrow stations were unusual as an interim design until the newer Jubilee Line stations such as Bermondsey and Canary Wharf were built.

Heathrow Central/Terminals 1, 2 & 3’s enormous platform spaces which were renovated in 2011.

Even though the Piccadilly Line and Heathrow services are in the hands of the now venerable 1973 tube stock, older tube trains such as the 1938 and 1959 tube stock actually worked the Heathrow branch. Several trains of 1938 stock were still in use on the Piccadilly when the line to Hatton Cross was open and there are observations of these trains here, with the last ones reaching this point in December 1975. By 1977 most of the line’s trains were 1973 tube stock however some 1959 tube stock continued in use. These too reached Heathrow Central, with some observers commenting their first ride on the new line on the day of opening was with 1959 stock.

In retrospect the older combined District and Piccadilly Line services to Hounslow West, along with the express buses from the latter, were more than sufficient to manage the Heathrow traffic. In fact traffic levels were not really sufficient enough to warrant two lines being run out to Hounslow West. The District Line lost its Hounslow services in 1964.

Interestingly this was just before the huge boom in air travel, and it may have been if the District had held on a bit longer we would be seeing a much better service to Heathrow in the form of larger trains and even now the modern air conditioned S-Stock.

Its known London Transport had the opportunity to build full size railway tunnels to Heathrow ready for the eventual time when that necessity may have arisen, and thus District Line services, instead of the Piccadilly, would be serving the airport. Officials at the time however decided to make the new line tube sized only and there’s been regret that decision was ever made.

Advert for the old A1 Express Bus from Hounslow West.

Despite the fact London Transport could manage the Hounslow to Heathrow transfer bus operations quite well, taking the tube to Hounslow and bus onwards to the airport eventually showed its limitations for passenger numbers increased considerably during the later sixties’ airline boom.

Evidently a direct connection was the answer, and this is how the Heathrow extension came into being. The regret however is as has been mentioned, it was not built to accommodate sub surface stock.

During the course of the 1970s the old transport order reliant on dedicated bus services to the airport was shut down. The West London Air Terminal closed in 1974 (however express coaches continued from West London until 1979.) The replacement Piccadilly Line was extended to Hatton Cross (1975), Heathrow (1977.) The A1 local bus service was then ended.  New services, known as Airbuses A1, A2, from King’s Cross, Victoria etc, were introduced in 1981 but withdrawn in 2004.