Gatwick Express: Passengers in danger of missing flights as airport train service is halved

Exclusive: The cuts mean there are 13,000 fewer seats a day between central London and Britain’s second-busiest airport

The latest cunning plan for dealing with rising passenger numbers on the London-Brighton line: halve the number of Gatwick Express trains, and delay some other services.

The train operator that brought commuters Britain’s most chronically delayed train believes the route to a better service is running fewer trains. Passengers in a hurry to travel from central London to Gatwick airport on Friday, and over the next two weeks, are likely to find that half the daytime and evening express trains have been cancelled.

Thirty-eight Gatwick Express services a day are being cancelled, leaving passengers - who pay £19.90 one-way for the 28-mile journey - potentially waiting for 30 minutes, rather than the previous quarter-hour. The cuts mean there are 13,000 fewer seats a day between central London and Britain’s second-busiest airport.

Stefan Rousseau, a Press Association photographer, blamed the cuts for missing his flight from Gatwick to Malta where he was due to be working at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. He tweeted: “Missed flight to @chogm2015mt this morning after @GatwickExpress cancelled two trains without warning or explanation. Thanks chaps.”

In addition, 20 Thameslink services a day between London and Brighton have been cancelled or are terminating at Gatwick. Some of the surviving trains will make additional stops, adding to journey times.

A parody Twitter account, BadSouthernRail, tweeted: “Just so you know, Thameslink are rubbish at trains in the day. So they've given up.”

Southern Railway faced criticism earlier this year when it was revealed that the 7.29am from Brighton to London Victoria ran late every day in 2014. It is now part of Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR), which also runs Gatwick Express and Thameslink services on the line. 

The train operator denied that the aim of the cuts is to massage punctuality statistics or to save money. It insisted the decision was taken in response to “poor punctuality during autumn and the very busy nature of our service”.

GTR is telling passengers: “The aim of the changes is to help reduce congestion on the network, so that a more reliable service can be provided.”

A railway insider told The Independent: “This is basically a flawed timetable with not enough resilience built in. The main question is: why change it now? It may be that they’re trying to blame the leaf-fall season.”

Martin Abrams, public transport campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport, told The Independent: “Cancelling and running fewer train services is not the answer to sorting out the problem of poor performance and punctuality.

“Running fewer trains will lead to more overcrowding with passengers forced to stand in cramped conditions. Having paid a lot of money for their ticket, they should get the service they deserve: an affordable and reliable rail service.”

A new timetable is due to be introduced next month, which will turn the clock back 31 years. Before 1984, when the Gatwick Express was launched as Britain’s first dedicated airport train, the Sussex airport was served by normal trains to and from the coast. That pattern will return, with fast trains from Brighton stopping at Gatwick. 

The arrangement will slow down the Brighton-London journey by around five minutes, because of a prolonged stop at the airport, and inconvenience airline passengers. The principle of the dedicated Gatwick Express service was that there would always be one waiting on the platform, reducing stress for those with lots of luggage.

Between Christmas Eve and 4 January next year, the main line from London to Gatwick and Brighton will be severed, with passengers facing a tripling of journey times from half an hour to 90 minutes.

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