by Phil Marsh

Heathrow Express joins forces with the city of Chengdu in China

Published: 25th May 2014

Chinese visa-free visits marked by special Heathrow Express panda train

Heathrow Express (HEX) carries over 17,000 passengers a day between Paddington and Heathrow Airport on a non-stop premium rail service every 15 minutes.

There has been a 32% surge in business and leisure travel between Chengdu and London in the first three months of 2014 and to help capture the extra passengers, HEX has partnered Chengdu to encourage incoming Chinese visitors to use their trains while promoting the Chinese city to UK travellers.

The launch of the partnership took place at Heathrow Airport with Ms. Li Li, Deputy Director General of Chengdu Municipal Foreign Affairs Office, Mr. Keith Greenfield, Chief Executive, Heathrow Express and Mr. Jamie Cassidy, Area General Manager for Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa, British Airways speaking. Two large pandas were also present for the event…..

Chengdu 72 Express

A HEX Class 332 train No. 332005 was temporarily re-named the ‘Chengdu 72 Express’ and decorated internally with various pictures on the windows. This special name and livery was only carried for 72 hours, the same time as a visa-free visit to Chengdu can be made. It was not possible to decorate the exterior of the train due to contractual issues as vodaphone has sponsored the external livery.

The ‘Chengdu 72’ offer to British travellers allows a 72-hour visa-free transit travel to Chengdu, population 14m people is the capital of Sichuan province.

This marks a first for HEX in collaborating with a destination to highlight their trains to overseas visitors and will be promoted in China as part of an ongoing collaboration following the Prime Minister’s trade mission to Chengdu last year. The decision was made after British Airways’ decision to increase its direct flights between Heathrow and Chengdu from three times a week to five.

They said:

Keith Greenfield, chief executive of Heathrow Express, said: “As Britain’s trade links with China grow, we expect an increase in the number of Chinese business people, particularly those from Chengdu, flying into Heathrow. For Chengdu business travellers with meetings in London, Heathrow Express is the fastest, most cost-effective and most comfortable way to get into the capital. Our premium service takes just 15 minutes from Heathrow to London Paddington, and it runs every 15 minutes.”

Deputy Director General of Chengdu Municipal Foreign Affairs Office, Li Li said: “With increased flights between London and Chengdu, we are seeing ever closer links between the cities. Rebranding the Heathrow Express to the Chengdu Express for 72 hours will help highlight how easy it is for Chinese visitors to London to get into central London from Heathrow.”

Business and leisure destination

As well as being a huge business centre, Chengdu is also a major tourist attraction thanks largely to Giant Pandas at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and at the Bifengixia Panda Reserve, two hours away.

There are also some natural and cultural heritage sites in the area, the 2,000 year-old Dujiangyan Irrigation System is the oldest the world with the Kuan and Zhai Alleys built during the Qing dynasty. There are about a 1000 UK people a day visit China according to official statistics with about 215,000 reverse journeys made annually by Chinese visiting Britain.

Union action fails to stop Heathrow Express services running

HEX services were targeted by the RMT union in a dispute over the late May Bank Holiday but trains continued to operate every 30 minutes for 17 hours a day. The RMT strike reduced HEX’s workforce by two thirds but other company staff stepped in to fill the vacancies to maintain a regular service for both one-day walk-outs.

What is HEX proposing?

The company tabled proposals at the end of February to:

• improve service for customers by introducing a new a ‘customer host’ role

• protect frontline jobs

• improve safety

• implement a proposed pay freeze for all employees during 2014

• help cut operating costs by nearly £6 million between 2014 and 2019

• position Heathrow Express to compete in the future

• position Heathrow Express to run services on the new western rail access between Reading and Heathrow from 2021.

The RMT balloted its members after the company put forward proposed changes in February to its frontline customer service roles. A strike took place on April 29 and 30.

They said:

Keith Greenfield, managing director of Heathrow Express, said:

“Our original proposals will cut our operating costs by nearly £6 million over the next five years, while avoiding the need for compulsory redundancies and protecting existing employees’ futures with the company.

From 2021 we expect there to be western rail access into Heathrow. Between now and then we must prove we are the best operator to run services on this new line out to Slough and Reading. This is a crucial strand in the plan to secure the future of Heathrow Express. We remain the fastest way to travel between central London and Heathrow, strike or no strike.

Strikes will increase costs at a time when we are trying to reduce them. We have repeatedly advised the RMT that this errant tactic will succeed only in achieving a worse result for RMT members. We hope they see sense.

Trains and platforms in the two strikes were manned by ‘reservist’ staff - including managing director Keith Greenfield who put their office jobs on hold to keep this vital transport link going.

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