Gatwick Express has now resumed its non-stop service to support the recovery of Gatwick Airport and the South East economy.
Services, which returned in April, were first suspended in March 2020 as the pandemic took hold and passenger numbers at Gatwick Airport tumbled. But with the removal of travel restrictions this March, an increase in passenger numbers and the airport’s Southern Terminal now open again, the Gatwick Express team are already looking ahead to tackle the busy summer travel season.
Gatwick Express, operated by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) along with Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern, is now operating with two Gatwick Express services running non-stop between Gatwick Airport and London Victoria.
The service previously ran with four trains an hour but the ongoing upgrade of Gatwick Airport railway station continues to limit the number of platforms available, with platforms 5 and 6 closed for widening. The station is being rebuilt to improve accessibility, reduce passenger congestion and cut delays for commuters and leisure travellers using the Brighton Mainline. These works will be completed in March 2023.
Mondays to Saturdays inclusive, all Gatwick Express trains are timetabled to run non-stop between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport, then run through non-stop to Brighton. Peak- time weekday services will also call additionally at Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill, Hassocks and Preston Park.
The services did resume on weekdays in December 2021 before being curtailed two weeks later due to Christmas engineering work and then the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. Having faced a difficult two years, Stephen MacCallaugh, the general manager of Gatwick Express, is pleased about the return to business as usual.
‘Back for good’
Stephen said: “It has been a difficult couple of years but we’re absolutely delighted that we’re back and back for good. We had that little bit of hope back in December, and there was a lot of excitement around coming back in time for the winter, and then we planned to be back in time for the May timetable change but to be back even sooner shows the direction of travel in which the industry, passenger numbers and aviation are heading.
“There’s been a lot of work going on behind the scenes of course to make sure that we were in a great place when services resumed and that there could be a smooth transition. That work wasn’t just on the operations side but the customer side of things regarding what the changes to the service look like, as well as rebuilding brand awareness as we get our name back out there. There’s been two years of us being quite silent but now we’re back to support people with their travel plans as we head towards the summer. We have a great team and many within our business have supported us to get back up and running.”
We are still living in a somewhat different world to that experienced pre-pandemic and there is a lot of focus around providing returning passengers with high levels of reassurance and confidence that choosing Gatwick Express is the right travel choice.
Stephen said: “We have more of a fight on our hands than we have ever had. Pre-pandemic the industry banked on customers really being there on tap but one of the lessons that we’ve all learned is we need to fight for our customers and provide them with a reason to come back and then stay with us.
“Providing reassurance plays a big part, as it has throughout COVID. We learned a lot of lessons in terms of how we ready our trains, present them, and made advancements in our cleaning operations, in addition to being there to support customers with getting from A to B, and arriving safely at their locations. So we’ve put that learning into practice and will take these approaches forward in our business, across Gatwick Express and GTR.”
These new cleaning measures include the continued use of a long-lasting viricide that kills coronavirus for weeks at a time. In March, GTR re-treated its 20,000th train and, throughout the pandemic, the viricide was applied to all 2,700 carriages in the Great Northern, Southern, Gatwick Express and Thameslink fleet and they are regularly re-treated to keep them that way.
GTR has also treated its 235 stations over 7,000 times, while trains that are air-conditioned also refresh the air on board every six to nine minutes, giving passengers returning to rail the added confidence they are protected from the virus.
Stephen added: “We’re also supporting passengers in their choices to wear face coverings and for people not to feel strange wearing them. There is still a lot of work to do to make people feel safe on rail.”
Pre-COVID, Gatwick was the single biggest driver of economic growth in the region, delivering £2.7 billion of economic activity and 71,000 direct and indirect jobs. As a gateway to the UK for 5.5 million overseas visitors each year before the pandemic, it was estimated that visitors through Gatwick spent 9.7 million nights in the South East including seaside towns such as Brighton, bringing a significant economic boost to local hotels, visitor attractions, restaurants and shops. So that economic boost as Gatwick Express returns to business is widely welcomed.
Stephen said: “Gatwick Express returning provides such a big boost for the economy around Gatwick and the local area. Gatwick and Crawley are big employers for the aviation industry and our services help people get to and from work and commute to and from Brighton and London. That connectivity and reliability of service is really important. People have changed their travel patterns as working from home continues but more and more people are starting to go back to the workplace. We will continue to play a massive part in that and to drive people towards sustainable transport options. Rebuilding customer confidence is a key aspect of rebuilding the economy.”
There was no stride broken in the upgrade works at Gatwick Airport, which remain on schedule. The project is being managed by Network Rail in partnership with the Department for Transport and GTR. Gatwick Airport Ltd and Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership are co-funding the project with £37 million and
£10 million respectively. The project is being delivered by Costain.
Upgrade in progress
Stephen said: “One of the shining lights through the pandemic is that the project team were able to keep that running and on-track for completion this time next year. Work continued safely throughout the restrictions, which is incredible and a real positive. The work can be seen to be coming out of the ground now: the eight new escalators are already on the platforms in readiness for the new deck coming in at the station and the refurbishment of the existing concourse is in full flight.
“There are some big changes within our industry in terms of Great British Railways and national contracts for rail, but getting back up and running with Gatwick Express and the return of non-stop services reconnecting us
with London and Brighton is the first big step, then moving on to the completion of Gatwick Airport and boosting the local economy. We’re focused on delivering all of that and it being a good experience for our people and our passengers.
“It’s going to be a busy year, with the added pressure of more passengers returning as we move towards summer. We are making sure that we’re absolutely ready to give people an
experience in the station with very minimal disruption. There is still a lot of work needed to re-establish the values we stand by and reconnecting customers with the brand and building customer confidence, making sure they stay with us when they come back. We’re trying not to look too far ahead but a brand new station next year to provide everyone with a great travel experience will be the crowning moment in 2023.”