As highlighted by the Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) earlier in December, Gatwick Express is once more under threat. The ex-National Express service, which ceased to be a standalone operation in 2008, is now run by Southern (click here for online news story published August 11, 2009), and the current operation is thanks to a compromise reached in 2008.
As a result of objections from the aviation industry and various consumer bodies over proposals to serve the airport with commuter trains, the Department for Transport intervened. As a result, Gatwick Express trains ran at their existing 15-minute frequency until the end of 2008, but since then have had six trains at peak times extending their route onwards between Gatwick airport to Brighton and vice versa. These services also call at Haywards Heath. (Click here for online news story published April 12, 2007.)
Now, BAR UK, the industry association that promotes the business interests of scheduled airlines with a UK operation or representation, says that the service is once more under threat.
Chief executive Mike Carrivick says that the proposals are to “get rid of the Gatwick Express stock itself, bring in more of the commuter stock, and split that commuter stock up during non-peak times so a ten-coach train would be five”.
He adds: “There is a great risk that the Gatwick Express will be downgraded to a commuter service. From our point of view that hits visitors to the UK, particularly people who aren’t familiar with the UK or London, and who seek a fast and reliable non-stop service for both comfort and security.”
Carrivick also says that extra stops means that visitors run the risk of getting off at the wrong station or having their luggage stolen, but more importantly, the service is essential to Gatwick since the airport is “so poorly connected to London by road”.
He says: “We think rail and airport connectivity should be improved, not downgraded, and not just at Gatwick but at all airports. The last thing we want to do is put more people on the roads.”
Carrivick warns that other advantages, such as the onboard sales facility allowing passengers to buy a ticket with a credit card on the train itself will be lost, as may be the “ungated” nature of the service at Gatwick and Victoria. It is also unlikely that multilingual announcements would continue.
“Our view is that this is being done to suit the operator rather than the market,” says Carrivick. “It is charging [passengers] a lot more on that line, the rolling stock is in place, what’s the problem keeping in place?”
Despite repeated attempts by Business Traveller to interview a spokesperson, the operator of Gatwick Express, Southern, was not able to comment on any aspect of this story.