John Rowan and Partners celebrate the completion of the Luton Dart

The innovative transport project, the Luton Dart or ‘Direct Air to Rail Transit’ project is now complete. The autonomous light rail system allows passengers to travel between Luton Airport’s Parkway station to the Luton Airport terminal in under four minutes.


Stephen Bull, Clerk of Works from John Rowan and Partners worked on the unique project since the start in 2018 until its completion. He oversaw all aspects of health and safety on the project, which involved the construction of two stations, a 350m viaduct, running slab, tunnel and approaches, and a maintenance area.


After a five-year project the Luton Dart opened to the public in March 2023. King Charles III was one of the first people to travel the 2.1km journey as part of an official visit to Luton.


With two four-train cars, each able to accommodate 170 passengers, the DART will transport up to 2,720 people an hour, with the service running every four minutes at peak times. The £225m DART scheme relied on a variety of engineering solutions and this is arguably the main element where the skills and experience of John Rowan and Partners was most valuable.

An amazing scheme for the team


Stephen Bull, John Rowan and Partners’ Clerk of Works for the project said “The engineering on this job was amazing; there are seven different types of structure involved, each necessitating a different approach, and no two days were the same. It’s special to see it all come together and officially open to the public.”


He continued “I spent a lot of time taking photographs and documenting the progress, so I was able to observe all the different aspects of the development. A unique perspective, I suppose, and I doubt whether I’ll ever work on anything quite like this again!”


One of the highlights of the project for Stephen Bull, and a key part necessary for the completion, was the installation of the 1,000 tonne DART Gateway bridge, which spans the A1081 dual carriageway – a busy thoroughfare for airport and local traffic. He recalls “The team had a 48-hour window during which the 72 metre, 1,000 steel truss bridge had to be manoeuvred into position. The road was closed for the duration, but everything had to be finished so it could be reopened for traffic at 4am on the Monday morning.


Great planning and delivery meant that the bridge was successfully installed ahead of the deadline – with a comfortable eight hours to spare. It was just amazing to see the job done with such expertise and finesse.”


The original design for the scheme, allowing passengers to travel between the airport and St Pancras in just 30 minutes, was created by Arup, with VolkerFitpatrick and Kier (VFK) and Doppelmayr Cable Car acting as project partners.


Doppelmayr Cable Car supplied the cable-driven autonomous transportation system, which was selected for its low environmental impact.

Luton Airport serves more than 15 million passengers annually, flying over 150 routes worldwide. It’s a major contributor to the UK’s economy, employing more than 10,000 direct workers and indirectly supporting another 18,000.

What next?


The Luton Dart is actually part of a wider scheme to support Luton Airport’s growth goals. The borough council’s airport company, London Luton Airport Ltd (LLAL), is investing in a complete redesign of the terminal building, doubling the amount of retail space and the areas set aside for security search, immigration and baggage reclaim plus a 1,700-space short-stay multi-storey car park.


The complex project forms part of Luton Borough Council’s £1.5 billion Luton Investment Framework which aims to transform Luton and secure long-term economic growth benefiting local business while ensuring the local community have access to high quality employment opportunities.


The Luton DART itself has a large social value ambition to support the economic development of the local area and has committed to the creation of a construction skills training hub, providing construction skills training, apprenticeships opportunities and work experience for local people. It will also lead to the creation of 78 permanent new jobs for Luton residents.


The completion of the Luton Dart project will play a key part in the LLAL meeting their goal of 45% of passengers accessing the airport by public transport.


John Rowan and Partners are very proud to have played a part in this project and to have seen it through to completion.