Gatwick trains fight for custom

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The first real battle between rival train operators after privatisation begins today when Network SouthCentral (NSC) tries to lure customers away from the Gatwick Express.

The London Victoria- Gatwick route is one of the few where parallel services are run by different operators.

NSC runs four trains an hour, taking 33 minutes for the journey and charging pounds 7.50; Gatwick Express takes three minutes less but charges pounds 8.90. NSC's advertising campaign aims to show that its service is cheaper and stops at Clapham Junction and East Croydon, while Gatwick Express is non-stop. It also runs all-night services, while Gatwick Express stops at midnight. Both companies were privatised recently: NSC was taken over by the French CGEA multinational, while Gatwick Express is run by the National Express coach company.

Under British Rail, the services were not allowed to compete: commuters were expected to use NSC, while Gatwick Express was intended for airport users. Gatwick Express claimed to have 80 per cent of the Victoria-Gatwick market despite the price differential but NSC disputes this.

In theory, this type of competition was the spur for the privatisation programme but in fact there are few lines where different operators run services cheek-by-jowl.

French takeover, page 15