London Luton Airport (LTN) is a key low-cost and leisure hub to the north of the British capital. The airport has good public transport links, with both an onsite coach station and a nearby railway station. However, the latter of these requires a transfer bus to reach the terminal. As such, the airport is looking to streamline this with its ‘DART’ people mover, which now looks set to open next year.

The current offering

The airport’s nearby railway station, known as Luton Airport Parkway, is situated on the Midland Main Line. This stretches from London’s majestic St Pancras terminus to the likes of Nottingham and Sheffield, providing the airport with a wide range of easily accessible intercity destinations. Some southbound services also pass through and beyond London to serve Gatwick and Brighton.

However, while well served, the station isn’t on the site of the airport itself. Indeed, as Luton’s website explains, passengers must take a 10-minute shuttle bus journey from the station to the terminal building. If you haven’t booked a through train ticket to the airport itself, the bus costs £2.40 ($2.73) for a single or £3.80 ($4.32) for an open return. It runs every 10 minutes between 05:00 and midnight.

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Luton Airport Bus

While this is still fairly convenient, the buses are at the mercy of road traffic. If busy, this can cause journey times to rise. As such, the airport has devised a solution.

A new dawn for the DART

In order to provide additional capacity and a more direct service for connections between trains and planes, London Luton Airport is planning to open a light metro system between its terminal building and the station. Known as the DART (Direct Air-Rail Transit), this will also relieve pressure on the area’s roads.

The DART will be an automated ‘cable liner’ style people mover, built by Austrian transit manufacturer Doppelmayr. Its two-track line from the station to the airport will be 1.4 miles (2.3 kilometers) long. Passengers will also benefit from more consistent journey times, with the driverless DART not being at the mercy of road traffic. According to Luton Rising, the shuttles will leave every four minutes.

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Luton Airport Parkway DART Construction

Opening delayed until next year

The photograph above depicts the construction of the DART station at Luton Airport Parkway, as seen in February 2020. The building work was briefly paused in April that year due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. However, as Luton Today reported at the time, it soon resumed following a risk assessment.

There is also talk of additional stations being built at the airport’s mid-stay car park, and at its second terminal, should one be built. Luton Rising states that the DART will allow a ‘seamless’ 30-minute journey from London St Pancras to the airport via Luton Airport Parkway. The innovative shuttle will operate on a 24/7 basis.

Unfortunately, the impacts of the global health crisis have caused the DART’s opening to be delayed. Indeed, it has been pushed back several times, with New Civil Engineer reporting earlier this month that, amid rising costs, operations are now set to begin in early 2023. Train testing has been ongoing since winter 2021.

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Luton DART Map

A similar system elsewhere in England

Of course, Luton isn’t the only airport to use automated transit systems to shuttle passengers between trains and planes. Indeed, just 90 minutes away by road, Birmingham Airport (BHX) has also been using people movers since 1984.

The first of these was the Birmingham Maglev, the world’s first commercial maglev transit. This technology used magnets to make the people movers ‘fly’ 1.5 cm above their tracks. The 600-meter link was replaced by a bus in 1995.

A cable-hauled system known as SkyRail then followed in 2003. This driverless transit from the terminal to Birmingham International railway station and the National Exhibition Center is now known as the Air-Rail Link.

Did you know about London Luton Airport’s Proposed ‘DART’ People Mover? Have you ever used a similar system at another airport? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Sources: London Luton Airport, Luton Rising, Luton Today, New Civil Engineer


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