WE hope three trains an hour could be running to Southampton by 2026.”

That is the message from Graham Cross, chief executive of Heathrow Southern Railway (HSRL), which is preparing plans for a £1 billion rail link between the city and the UK’s biggest airport.

In an exclusive interview with the Echo, Mr Cross said that the new Heathrow Rail Link will boost business and tourism.

Under Heathrow’s Southern Railway proposals, an independent venture set up to build the rail link, the new route could see trains from Woking head directly to Heathrow Airport from the South Western Mainline which runs between London Waterloo and Weymouth.

Mr Cross, added: “We hope it will provide a quick and convenient rail connection from Southampton, Weymouth and Bournemouth and hope to start this as soon as the line opens in 2026 providing new opportunities for business and tourists.

“However, it won’t just create a direct connection, we also hope to provide a connection to Old Oak Common in London to connect with High Speed Two giving passengers an easier connection.”

“Service levels we hope could see three trains an hour run to Southampton and Dorset by the time the line opens.”

“HSRL’s scheme for southern rail access to Heathrow is well developed, and the work carried out by AECOM and the rest of our expert team confirms it is a viable, deliverable and affordable proposal for growing the proportion of passengers accessing the airport by train.”

Mr Cross said the service could be used by as many as 33,000 people per day, helping to reduce road traffic.

However, HSLR is likely to face competition. There are currently thought to be at least three rival schemes in development.

Hong Kong rail operator MTR, which co-owns the South Western Railway franchise with FirstGroup has also expressed interest in the southern rail link.

John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow Airport, said HSLR was the most developed of the schemes and added: “A southern new rail link connecting Heathrow is a huge opportunity to connect an additional 4.8 million passengers to Heathrow and treble our rail capacity by 2040.”

Royston Smith, MP for Southampton Itchen, said: “The more cars we get off the road the better. Any additional capacity on our railway network is to be welcomed.”

“Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world and is due to expand further. Part of its environmental challenge is to cut emissions and fewer car journeys would certainly help to achieve that.This project appears to be in its infancy but I will be watching developments carefully.”

Lorna Carver, director, Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Our transport network is critical to the future growth and prosperity of Dorset – any investment in its infrastructure is to be welcomed.

“Rail connections to major cities and important airports need to be improved locally and regionally for our economy to grow and thrive.”

Cllr Roy Perry, the leader of Hampshire County Council, added: “It would be very welcome to have a direct rail link from Hampshire to Heathrow as the current RailAir link is not satisfactory.”

Bids for the Heathrow Southern Rail link are currently being considered by the Department for Transport.