'Testing problems' with £225m Luton DART, meeting told

Testing problems have been experienced with a new £225m state-of-the-art transport system linking London Luton Airport and Luton Airport Parkway railway station, a meeting heard.

Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 12:10 pm
Updated Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 4:10 pm
The £225m DART will link Luton Airport Parkway station with the airport terminal

During testing of the Luton direct air-rail transit (DART), the carriage has left the tracks "on a few occasions", the council's overview and scrutiny board was told yesterday (Monday).

"It's because there's some problem with either the traction, the pulley system or the wheels," said Liberal Democrat Barnfield councillor David Franks.

The Luton DART is an automated passenger carrier which will provide faster transfers on a 2.1km route between the airport terminal and the station.

The subject was raised during a presentation to the board of the London Luton Airport annual monitoring report 2020.

Councillor Franks said: "On the question of the DART, I'm told the trials of the system aren't going terribly well.

"On a few occasions, it's actually come off the tracks because there's some problem with either the traction, the pulley system or the wheels.

"I've not got the details of exactly what the problem is. But if it can't stay on its tracks it's not going to make the contribution expected, is it?" he asked.

Presenting the review, planning consultant David Gurtler replied: "The airport operator wouldn't be the right people to respond on that. It would be London Luton Airport Limited (LLAL)."

Airport operations manager Neil Thompson said: "All I'll say to that is there's a good nine months of testing before it opens, so if there are any issues they should be ironed out before it goes into service next March."

The council's corporate director inclusive economy Nicola Monk said: "We'll get colleagues from LLAL to do a formal response because that's a serious issue which was being raised.

"There's nothing that we've heard as officers, so we need to understand where that's come from.

"It's a serious issue raised in a public arena. We need to understand what that means and deal with it outside of this meeting, but it can't be left just hanging there."

Councillor Franks added: "When the airport gets back to what we consider normal, a significant amount of the part of the profit of the operating company comes from car parking.

"What can they say that will give us reassurance that they're serious about trying to shift more passengers from private vehicles to public transport?" he asked.

Mr Gurtler said: "The 2014 planning permission had about 9,650 car parking spaces associated with the increase to 18m passengers.

"The airport does operate a system of price control, so if you raise your prices it may discourage people from using the private vehicle.

"The DART project will provide a much better link and ease of access into the airport from the station."

Airport director of corporate affairs Ollie Jaycock said: "We've a published airport surface access strategy with detailed plans and targets about how we'll shift mode share and get people out of private vehicles and on to public transport.

"My direct answer to councillor Franks' question is there's no better example about how committed the airport is than by looking at that £260m investment into the DART, which is solely about driving people out of their cars and on to public transport.

"As an airport operator we also completely accept and understand that the long-term viability of the airport absolutely depends on the airport making sure we're reducing emissions.

"And that's about getting people out of their private vehicles, so I can assure you we're very committed to that."

Graham Olver, CEO of LLAL, said: “We wish to make it absolutely clear that any suggestion that the DART may have left the tracks at any point during testing is wholly unfounded and entirely inaccurate.

“There have been absolutely no incidents of this nature, nor any operational problems with either the traction, pulley system or the wheels, and it is extremely regrettable that these comments have been put into the public domain without questions first being put to us.

“Our nine-month programme of testing for the Luton DART is robust, rigorous and significantly advanced, and we are pleased to report that so far it has proceeded entirely according to plan.”