What Is London Luton Airport’s Proposed ‘DART’ People Mover?

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.

Luton Airport
The DART will provide passengers from airlines like easyJet and Wizz Air with easier access between the station and the terminal. Photo: London Luton Airport

The current offering

The airport’s station, Luton Airport Parkway, is situated on the Midland Main Line. This stretches from London’s majestic St Pancras terminus to 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. The bus, which costs £2.40 ($3.33) for a single or £3.80 ($5.27) for an open return, runs every 10 minutes between 05:00 and midnight.

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

Luton Airport Bus
Rail passengers presently have to take a shuttle bus to the airport. Photo: DSH Transport via Flickr

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A new dawn for the DART

In order to provide additional capacity and a more direct service, Luton Airport is planning to open a light metro system between the terminal 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.

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. The DART is set to open in 2022, with its website stating that it 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.

The planned route for Luton’s DART people mover. Photo: Cnbrb via Wikimedia Commons

A similar system elsewhere in England

Of course, Luton isn’t the only airport to be making use of 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, which was 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, and then a cable-hauled system known as SkyRail 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.