18 JANUARY 2010


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Article from BTNews 18 JANUARY 2010

COMMENT: Gatwick and its Express


Our first issue of 2010 dealt with BAA and its six airports.  CEO Colin Matthews was kind enough to allude to Gatwick and wished the south London operation well under its new owners.

Gatwick’s new owners, Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP), has a great many problems to deal with at the airport, many of course known, and no doubt some discovered over the last few weeks.  That is not to say that the previous management were trying to cover up anything, but things do get overlooked when the real task is to run a day to day airport operation.

Clearly GIP’s first task is to define what is to be done and how it is to be done.  We are talking about the fabric of the airport.  Secondly it needs to retain its airline customers, and attract new ones, either those who have gone away, or those whose aircraft have never operated at the world’s busiest international single runway airport.

Third, but hopefully jumping the queue, is the effort required in actually attracting passengers to Crawley North.

London Gatwick has a railway station, perhaps the worst major rail gateway anywhere in the globe.  It is badly laid out, the amenities are poor, escalators are not fitted to all the platforms, and some of the trains themselves actually have to cross the tracks when entering, slowing down the whole operation.  Frankly it needs rebuilding, a major investment. 

By 2015 hopefully the Thameslink upgrade programme should be complete, giving a far better service to St Pancras and the north, and adding through routes to Stevenage and beyond.  It should add passengers by the drove.

In the meantime there is a severe problem.  It is called the Gatwick Express, still an Express, but a serious case of a doubtful future.

The Gatwick Express was introduced in 1984 as a non-stop service between the airport and London Victoria.  For an airport operation it was very successful and after originally using reconditioned rolling stock very modern dedicated units were introduced, the service marketed jointly with the Heathrow Express to Paddington and for a period with the unsatisfactory Stansted – Liverpool Street service.

In September 2009 the franchise was transferred to Southern, for them just another service.  What happens now is anyone’s guess but the airlines, with BAR-UK in the lead, are very concerned.  So should GIP. 

What we do know is that Southern Trains plan to discontinue use of the fine dedicated stock and use ten-coach commuter-type carriages. 

Presently there is a 30-minute non-stop service.  In off-peak hours plans have been suggested to split trains in two, and use five-car units. 

The idea of stopping the trains at Croydon was raised in the past, hotly contested by the airlines, and dropped.  BAA foolishly failed to challenge the title Stansted Express when the “Stansted Slow” was introduced.  Yes it was in their interest to acquiesce in the misrepresentation but this must never be allowed to happen again.  The Trade Descriptions Act was introduced to stop fraudulent sales campaigns.  Even in the beginning the Stansted Express was not non-stop, although the stop at Tottenham Hale does have advantages.  It now stops at least twice.

If Gatwick is to revert as a major UK and European gateway under its new owners it needs proper railway services and a fast dedicated operation to Central London with appropriate baggage storage facilities, multi-lingual announcements, onboard ticket sales, and friendly sympathetic staff.  Not a sparse commuter operation.

It is over to you GIP.  The airlines want to get behind you.  The Gatwick Express is your flagship route into London.  It must remain just that.  A proper airport express.

Malcolm Ginsberg

Editor in Chief

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