Regular Gatwick Express passengers may be seeing red over new trains entering service on the premium fare route from Monday (February 29).
New rolling stock being phased in is almost exactly the same as that used by Thameslink and Southern’s commuter trains – only with a different paint job on the outside and red seat cushions.
Gone are the well-padded InterCity-style standard class seats and gone is the armchair comfort of first class of the 1980s-built current stock. Instead, there is the standard metal shell seating throughout, with first class in the same 2×2 layout and differentiated only by a headrest cover and frosted glass partition.
Gatwick Express says the new 12-car trains are an “upgraded” version of its Thameslink rolling stock and that there will be 18 more first class seats than the old ten-car trains. It adds that having double sliding doors on each carriage will mean reduced boarding and alighting times, improving punctuality; while the new seat design means bags can be placed underneath them.
Like the Southern and Thameslink trains, the new £145 million Gatwick Express stock has power points, but unlike the other two brands, it features wifi.
All three companies are run by Govia Thameslink Railway and a glance at the timetable shows very little difference in travelling time between Southern and Gatwick Express from Victoria to Gatwick and vice-versa – usually no more than three minutes.
The standard Gatwick Express single fare is £19.90 (£17.80 if bought from its own website), while Southern’s is £15.40 at peak times and £12 off-peak. In fairness, Southern trains departing Victoria usually stop at Clapham Junction and East Croydon, both stations that attract a huge number of passengers, so getting a seat on these trains from London during the evening peak is not easy and the nonstop Gatwick Express scores here.
“The main selling point is that it is a direct, nonstop service to the heart of London,” said a spokeswoman. She added: “Clearly, what ticket people buy is entirely up to them.”
Another issue for passengers is that during the morning peak on journeys from the airport into London, Gatwick Express now runs from Brighton as a commuter service, so anyone arriving from an overnight flight at Gatwick can be greeted with an already packed train when it stops at the airport.
Hopefully, the addition of two extra carriages will alleviate this. Otherwise, with so little difference in journey time, being forced to stand on a train that while brand new, is basically the same as all the others, will mean some Gatwick Express passengers might ask what the premium they are paying is actually for.