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London’s Heathrow Express: 15 minutes of theatre

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Looking out at the world from the Heathrow Express. Photo: ItsRichard
Looking out at the world from the Heathrow Express. Photo: ItsRichard

Railways breed euphemisms. We always smile when we hear railway staff at London’s Paddington station refer to “the lawn.” There is nothing green about the lawn, but that’s what they call the concrete concourse where travelers gather, scanning the list of upcoming departures, at the inward end of the platforms.

Another old Paddington euphemism, one we have not heard for many a year, is the habit of alluding to Platform 1 as “the departure stage.” In the 19th century, that was where the premium trains departed. It’s a nice phrase, a happy reminder that there is still something theatrical about leaving a grand railway station. Departures deserve a little drama.

Arriving in Paddington after 15 minutes of theatre. Photo: Lars Plougmann

All stops on the Piccadilly Line

Visitors to London are spoiled for choice when it comes to getting out to Heathrow. But let’s face it. There’s not much drama if you ride the tube, en route swapping subterranean gloom for London’s leafy western suburbs. There are an awful lot of intermediate stops and it’s a challenge to work up any great enthusiasm for the architectural charms of South Ealing, Northfields or Boston Manor.

Or 15 minutes of theatre

But the Heathrow Express does have a touch of the dramatic about it. It is a great alternative to the slow grind on the Piccadilly line. Trains run every 15 minutes and the travel time from Paddington to Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 and 3 is just 15 minutes. (Trips to slightly further distant Terminals 4 and 5 take a little longer.) And the run out from Paddington to the airport offers 15 minutes of theatre.

You catch glimpses of some very engaging architecture along the way, from the assertively modern Paddington Basin development to sedate Victorian suburbs like Ealing. There is art deco style (watch out for the EMI plant at Hayes), a water tower disguised as a castle (near Southall) and wonderful reminders of London’s multicultural character.

Just before Southall station, on the left and easily identifiable from its golden dome, is the largest Sikh temple in Europe. And the station signs at Southall station are in both Punjabi and English. This is “Bend it like Beckham” country and a chance to catch a glimpse of quite another London from that which features in the regular tourist guides.

A blurry flurry passes... Photo: JDinBawlmer

A changing London

Times have changed since the great 19th-century engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel built this fine route out from Paddington to the west. The new branch off to Heathrow is a mere youthful upstart.

But until the moment, usually about 11 minutes out from Paddington, when you branch off from Brunel’s main line to burrow underground to Heathrow, you’ll get an eyeful of classic railway architecture. There is Wharncliffe Viaduct, a feast of brick and Georgian elegance that just oozes style.

Heathrow Connect for slow-motion replay

There are some journeys that we just wish would take a little longer. This is one of them. Heathrow Express is a premium service, but it is a visual feast. Part of the appeal is the kaleidoscope of images seen at speed.

If you want a slow motion re-run, then note that Heathrow Express has a slower sibling that makes the same journey at a more moderate pace. It is called Heathrow Connect and the fares are a little cheaper.

About the author

hiddeneurope

About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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