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RIP The Gatwick Express

February 3rd, 2006 · Posted by Skuds in Life · No Comments · Life

The news about the Gatwick Express could be extremely handy for those of us living in Crawley.

BAA Gatwick argued strongly for its retention, and I can see their point of view. It is a good service to offer travellers – a direct train into London where it is impossible to get off at the wrong stop. As the train is non-stop you can relax and not worry about anyone quickly hopping off with your luggage at an intermediate stop. I heard all the arguments at meetings of the Gatwick Consultative Committee when I used to sit on it and I can’t disagree with any of them.

In isolation these arguments are compelling, but unfortunately the service can only be provided by taking away capacity from an already overcrowded route, and creating a bottle-neck at Gatwick station, where the platform capacity is reduced by a third because of the Gatwick Express.

It really is frustrating to stand at Clapham Junction during a 30-minute wait for a Crawley train and seeing two half-empty Gatwick Express trains fly through and a couple of 4-carriage Brighton trains which do not even have any standing room left on them pull up and even more passengers try to squeeze on.

I agree that, as a commuter, it is annoying when the train stops at Gatwick and fills up with tourists and their luggage and loud conversations, but that already happens now since the Gatwick Express is more expensive than the Southern trains. I avoided it by only taking trains which do not stop at the airport or ones to London Bridge which are strangely unattractive to overseas arrivals.

Another thing: two of the airports which are most often cited as main competitors to Heathrow and Gatwick are Roissy and Schipol. I have used them many times for business and pleasure, probably more than I have used Gatwick. I nearly always take the train into Paris or Amsterdam, even when on expenses. In both cases these were normal mainline train services, not some exclusive airport-city shuttle, and never had any trouble. Last year we took the train back to Schiphol in the early rush hour and it was fine.

I wonder if our own service to London from here and Brighton might be more like that if we did not have so many empty seats being pulled back and forth four times an hour each way. There are still ways the SRA, or its successor, could cock it all up but it could make life a lot better for regular users of Crawley station, and even more so for users of Three Bridges station.

While a dedicated service to Gatwick would be useful, nobody has ever said it is so valuable it would be worth building dedicated infrastructure for it, so until they do I will be happy if it stops taking mine. I really don’t think that the lack of a dedicated non-stop service will hold back growth at Gatwick and plunge the local economy into a black hole, but it might make life just that little bit easier for the thousands of commuters I travel with every day.

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