I took this screen capture this page on from the Gatwick Express web site.
It does seem they are embracing contactless ticketing to Gatwick. They do add this caveat.
Please note, if you are making a return journey, it will be cheaper to buy a paper return ticket online.
From here in the wilds of Dalston, I shall probably never use Gatwick Express, except to catch an early flight, when I would take one of two night buses; N38 and N73 or a mini-cab to Victoria.
I will probably use Thameslink from London Bridge or use the East London Line to get to Croydon.
I will certainly use a contactless bank card for the last leg to Gatwick, as it is not in Freedom Pass territory. As contactless costs just three pounds between East Croydon and Gatwick, I wouldn’t put it past the Airport to allow Freedom Passes to Gatwick, if Heathrow don’t allow them on Crossrail to the there.
There’s a war out there and the two main protagonists; Helpful Gatwick and Greedy Heathrow are laying out their policies.
This picture shows the east-facing bay platforms at Reading station.
Bay Platforms 4, 5 and 6 At Reading Station
Note that they are numbered 4, 5 and 6 from the right. The train on Platform 5 is a Great Western Railway service for Gatwick Airport via Guildford. with a South West Trains service for Waterloo on Platform 6.
Gatwick Via The North Downs Line
Trains go to Gatwick using the North Downs Line, which is a double-track line effectively in five sections.
- Reading to Wokingham – electrified
- Wokingham to North Camp – not electrified
- North Camp to Shalford Junction – electrified
- Shalford Junction to Reigate – not electrified
- Reigate to Redhill and Gatwick – electrified.
According to Wikipedia, there needs to be work at Redhill and Gatwick Airport stations, but I believe that is underway.
Wikipedia also states that the line has an operative speed of 70 mph. The journey currently takes 76 minutes.
Once Crossrail and Thameslink are fully open, it would surely be quicker to change at Farringdon.
- The fastest journey between Farringdon and Gatwick Airport is now 54 minutes.
- The Crossrail route calculator says that Reading to Farringdon will take 57 minutes.
So that means that at 111 minutes, surprisingly the London route is thirty five minutes slower and needs a change of train.
Note these further points about the North Downs route.
- A well-driven electric train like a 110 mph Class 387 train might even be able to do the journey a few minutes quicker than the current 76 minutes, if the line were to be electrified.
- It is my belief, that the current piecemeal nature of the third-rail electrification would enable a Class 387 IPEMU to run between Reading and Gatwick Airport, using the batteries as required.
- I don’t think the batteries would need charging at the end of the journey, as both ends of the route are electrified.
- The line has ten level crossings, which must speed the trains, if some were removed.
- There must be other track improvements.
- Class 387 trains have also been fitted with an Airport Express interior for Gatwick Express.
- Can an Airport Express be battery-powered? Engineers like me, would say yes, but Marketing Departments would be sceptical.
I believe that ultimately a Class 387 train or an IPEMU with a similar performance could do Reading to Gatwick Airport in an hour, without further electrification.
My E-Mail To Thameslink On The 14th February
On the 14th February, I sent this e-mail to the Thameslink Programme.
At present when I go to Gatwick Airport, I get an East London Line train from Dalston Junction to New Cross Gate or Norwood Junction, from where I pick up a Gatwick Train.
Can you confirm, that the current service will be equally good or even better after the Thameslink Programme is completed?
A Reply From Thameslink On The 17th February
On the 17th February, I got this reply.
Thanks for your email.
The Thameslink Programme is transforming north-south travel through London. This infrastructure and new trains investment programme will increase capacity on one of Europe’s busiest stretches of railway. For more information on the benefits of the programme, you can visit our website here, and an interactive map of our improvement sites here.
We’ve already delivered longer, 12-car trains between Brighton and Bedford, platform lengthening at several stations, track work and upgraded stations including West Hampstead, Farringdon and Blackfriars. The most complex part of the programme is now underway; this includes rebuilding London Bridge station, and laying new track and signalling equipment around the station to create a spacious and better connected transport hub.
We are linking parts of the East Coast Mainline to the Thameslink network, allowing passengers from Cambridge and Peterborough to travel to Blackfrairs and beyond, relieving congestion on the Underground.
There will also be a link with Crossrail at our hub station at Farringdon, giving access to Gatwick, Luton and Heathrow airports and St Pancras International.
Dalston Junction is managed by TfL, and so any enquries about an improved link from this station to Gatwick should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope this is helpful, thanks for getting in touch.
Jen Pattison, Thameslink Programme
My E-Mail To Overground Info On The 17th February
So I sent off a longer e-mail to Overground Info.
If say you want to go between Dalston Junction and Purley, you will certainly have to change trains.
Currently, it takes between fifty and sixty minutes and you sometimes change at New Cross Gate and at other times the suggested change is Norwood Junction.
It’s alright for me and others who know how to use the various journey calculators or apps, but what about people like my late wife, who never ever owned a smart phone or even sent a text message.
The full simple rule for Dalston Junction to Purley, seems to be something like take a West Croydon train from Dalston Junction to Norwood Junction and then get the first train to Purley from there.
Different rules apply to different stations
Thameslink is going to bring major changes to how we go places along the East London Line and especially, if we venture into any Thameslink territory.
My simple example of Dalston Junction to Purley might get a lot more complicated, as some documents and web pages, say that Thameslink services between London Bridge and East Croydon will not stop. So how do passengers on the East London Line catch these trains to places like Purley, Gatwick and Brighton?
To get to Thameslink, those on the East London Line, will have to go to Whitechapel and get a train to Farringdon or St. Pancras
That will be a pain for anybody, whose local station is anywhere on the East London Line and very much a degradation of the current service.
Those living near Norwood Junction have already lodged a petition with the London Assembly.
My Reply From OvergroundInfo On The 19th February
On the 19th February, I got this reply.
Thank you for contacting London Overground.
I am sorry however I am unable to help with the issue you raise. They will be best addressed by Thameslink.
As a result I have passed your comments to them. I am sure that you will hear from them soon, however if you want to contact them their details are:
You certainly can’t complain about the promptness of the replies but I’m back to square one.
All I want to know, is how the millions of us in East London will get to Gatwick Airport, as conveniently as we do now!
I had breakfast at Kings Cross and then hopped across the city on Thameslink to Blackfriars to go for a walk through the Tate Modern. I came back to Farringdon, as because the East London Line is closed, a bus from Moorgate is the best way to get home.
These were pictures I took of new trains on Thameslink.
Note the following.
- The red trains with the grey doors are Class 387/2 trains destined for the Gatwick Express later this month.
- The interior shots were all taken in a Class 387/2 trains.
- The white train with the sloping front and the light blue doors, is a new Class 700 train, which will run on Thameslink.
The pictures were taken at St. Pancras International, Blackfriars and Farringdon.
The new Class 387/2 trains had a definite feel of the Class 387/1 trains about them, except they had sizeable luggage racks and possibly more tables.
There are better and more luxurious airport trains in the world, including probably the Class 332 trains of Heathrow Express. But as a train to speed you to the Airport in thirty minutes or so, with plenty of space for you and your luggage, they probably pass the first test by a good margin.
They would be very good on other Airport routes in the UK.
- Routes connecting Manchester Airport to Liverpool, Manchester, Crewe and Blackpool.
- A possible Gatwick Express route from Reading to Ashford International, which I think could happen, if an IPEMU variant were to be developed.
- To and from Airports like Cardiff, Stansted and Southend.
An IPEMU variant could be useful in developing spurs to airports like East Midlands, Luton and Glasgow, which would be built without wires from lines with full electrification. Bombardier has the technology, all they need is the orders.
Would this approach be an affordable way to create the much needed airport link at Glasgow Airport?
- A single-track spur leading from the Inverclyde Line to the Airport to a single platform station would probably have enough capacity for a two or three trains per hour service.
- No electrification would be needed, which would mean that there would be greater flexibility in the route of the line. It might even go in a single-track tunnel under taxiways.
- There would be some modification to the signalling.
- The trains would be bog standard Class 387/2 trains, except for the energy storage.
- Two trains would probably give a two trains per hour service to the airport, as Glasgow Central to Paisley \st. James takes around twenty minutes.
- The trains would just be more trains running between Glasgow and Paisley.
- It would be simpler than a tram-train and require no special rules or modified stations.
- I can’t think of any new regulatory issues, as it will be a train running on a railway.
- There would need to be some staff training.
The overall system would be no more complicated than running the demonstration Class 379 IPEMU on the Harwich branch, which seemed to work so well.
How much would it cost?
The creation of the new line to Ebbw Vale Town station and the single platform station is reported to have cost less than twelve million pounds.
According to this article in Railway Technology, Porterbrook have paid £100million for twenty Class 387 trains, so two trains would cost ten million.
I also think that provision of the track and trains in something like the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, is the sort of project that a company would provide and then lease to the train operator.
No wonder, that Bombardier have won an award for the technology and Porterbrook bought some Class 387 trains on spec.
This post was suggested by a comment by Ben H on my post called Untangling The Brighton Main Line. He said this about Oxted Line services.
Cease all services between the Oxted lines and Victoria (fast lines). All Oxted line services should go to London Bridge and (excluding diesels) become part of Thameslink.
Oxted services should operate single-line working between Norwood Junction and Sanderstead, with East Croydon’s easternmost platform island acting as the passing loop.
In one way, what he says is a no-no. If Oxted services were switched from Victoria to London Bridge, all the commuters would be up in arms and would challenge the change of London terminal in every way possible. Remember what happened when Network Rail proposed terminating all Sutton Loop services at Blackfriars. This is from Wikipedia in Political Developments under Thameslink Program.
Network Rail had planned to terminate Sutton Loop Thameslink trains at Blackfriars station, rather than have them continue through central London as at present. This upset many residents in South London and their local politicians, who saw it as a reduction in services rather than an improvement. In response to pressure, government has ordered Network Rail to reverse the decision.
So Oxted services will have to go into Victoria, until something so much better comes along, they forget about it. Bribery is a powerful tool.
The Current Oxted Line Service
So what services go down the two branches of the Oxted Line?
In the Off Peak the following services run.
- Two trains per hour go between Victoria and East Grinstead
- One train per hour between London Bridge and Uckfield.
There are extra trains in the peak, as this Departures display at Oxted station shows.
Trains From Oxted
But compared to say the Chingford Branch into Liverpool Street, which has at least four trains per hour all day, it is a very sick joke of a service. And a lot of the Chingford Branch services are eight cars!
Four Trains Per Hour To East Grinstead And Uckfield?
I strongly believe that services need to be four trains an hour, as they are on the East London Line to the four Southern terminals of Clapham Junction, Crystal Palace, New Cross and West Croydon.
So the question has to be asked if East Grinstead and Uckfield should have a four trains per hour service?
My view is that they do, if you want to have a turn-up-and-go service!
Fifteen minutes may seem a long wait, but if you can get a coffee and a paper, it can be quite a short time.
So what frequencies do other places in Sussex have to and from London?
These are better than Uckfield and just about on a par with East Grinstead.
Thameslink Will Be A Game-Changer
The completion of the Thameslink Programme will bring an increase in capacity all the way from Brighton and Gatwick Airport to London and beyond.
This a map of Thameslink Programme.
ThamesLink Programme Map
Brighton and Gatwick Airport after the upgrade will have frequencies of upwards of eight and twenty trains per hour respectively and a choice of destinations including.
- Farringdon for Crossrail
- London Bridge
- St. Pancras
I also think that if passengers were prepared to change at Brighton, Gatwick or East Croydon, there could be substantial increases in faster services to London and beyond from places on the Coastway Lines like Bognor Regis, Eastbourne, Hastings and Worthing etc.
There is possibly an argument to build some south-facing bay platforms at Gatwick, so that additional services can be run from there down the two Coastways. Thus a passenger from Hastings to London say, would have in addition to the direct service perhaps two or three with a step-free change at Gatwick, where they could choose either a Victoria or a Thameslink service.
What happens in the future will depend on how passengers use the improved Thameslink and what Gatwick decides to do to gain more passengers.
It will be interesting to see how the pattern of commuters changes in the next few years.
Have Thameslink Got Their Act Together?
One thing that puzzles me, is that I can’t find anything on the Internet, which talks about speeded up services on Thameslink after improvement. So am I right to assume that they’re spending all this money to provide more trains with larger capacity to more destinations in the same time as now?
There is no journey time calculator on the Thameslink Programme web site like there is on the Crossrail web site.
Obviously, it isn’t provided as the truth may be at odds with how wonderful the PR guys believe Thameslink is going to be.
Thameslink To Uckfield and East Grinstead
It might seem logical to run Thameslink trains down the Oxted Line to Uckfield and East Grinstead.
In fact, it is planned to run an eight-car service between West Hampstead Thameslink and East Grinstead in the Peak.
So why not run two four-car Class 700 trains that join and split at Oxted?
- The trains only come in fixed formations of eight and twelve cars.
- A sixteen-car train would probably be too long for the tunnels and the trains don’t have the end gangways needed for tunnels.
- The Uckfield Branch is not electrified.
- It would probably not be a good decision to build four-car trains for one branch of Thameslink.
Given the chequered history of the birth of Thameslink and the design of the trains, I think that four-car trains that could run in pairs, were discarded from the design of the railway. As it’s also common for trains to be split and joined all over southern England, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some shorter trains in the future on Thameslink.
Services Not Serving Gatwick Airport At East Croydon Station
If consolidation of services can take place at Brighton and Gatwick Airport, would it be possible to do the same at East Croydon station. These are the services south from East Croydon, that don’t terminate at Three Bridges and Brighton or pass through Gatwick Airport.
- 2 trains per hour from Victoria to Caterham
- 2 trains per hour from London Bridge to Caterham
- 2 trains per hour from London Bridge to Tattenham Corner, which when the Thameslink Programme is complete will start from Cambridge.
- 2 trains per our from Victoria to East Grinstead
- 1 train per hour from London Bridge to Uckfield
- 1 train per hour from Victoria to Tonbridge via Redhill
- 1 train per hour from Victoria to Reigate via Redhill
To summarise there are eleven trains an hour of which six go to Victoria and five to London Bridge. I assume it’s all for historic reasons and nothing to do with any serious railway planning.
Thankfully, the Tattenham Corner services are being taken out of the mix and will become part of Thameslink.
Another Gatwick Express Route
An interesting point is that Reigate and Tonbridge are both on the East West Route that connects Reading to Ashford International, via Guildford, Reigate, Redhill, Gatwick Airport and Tonbridge.
I believe that this could be a second Gatwick Express route to link the Airport to Wales and the West, and Continental rail services. So a four trains per hour service from Reading to Ashford international via Gatwick could benefit a lot more than those going to and from the Airport.
Platforms 5 And 6 At East Croydon Station
Intriguingly, all of these non-Gatwick services from London, seem to go south from Platform 6 at East Croydon station and go North from Platform 5.
There are also some other services like London Bridge to Horsham, that also use these platforms.
So do the savvy passengers coming from the South wanting to go to London Bridge, but from a station served by Victoria , change at East Croydon for the alternative destination?
Interestingly, if you use the National Rail’s Journey Planner to look at services from Victoria to Uckfield or London Bridge to East Grinstead, it sends you via a change at East Croydon.
So I would suspect that regular travellers know how to use East Croydon as an optimal interchange to get to their correct destination.
These pictures show Platform 5 and 6 at East Croydon station.
It is a well-equipped island platform, with coffee and food stalls, a waiting room, an information booth and toilets. The bridge at the Northern end and the ramp at the Southern end give step-free access to the two entrances and the other platforms.
Compared to some draughty, unwelcoming and scruffy places, where I’ve changed trains, it is one of the best single-platform interchanges.
The only thing that the island platform lacks is an Oyster reader, so that those like me, who need to touch-out and touch-in again, as they are changing from a Zone 6 ticket to contactless for Gatwick Airport, don’t have to walk up and through the barrier. I wrote about this in Contactless Between East Croydon And Gatwick Airport, which showed that at present contactless cards may be cheaper!
Increasing Capacity on the Oxted Line Is Not That Simple
Various factors come into play when providing extra capacity on the Oxted Line and I’ll discuss them in the next few sections.
Extra Services Through Platforms 5 And 6 At East Croydon
I’ve looked at an hour in the rush hour and a dozen trains have travelled South through platforms 5 and 6, with some gaps between trains being as low as two or three minutes.
Many platforms in London handle upwards of sixteen to twenty trains an hour. Londoners and visitors, also know how to use platforms like these as interchanges, by getting off one train and then getting another one a few minutes later.
When Thameslink is fully upgraded, passengers from Peterborough, Cambridge and Bedford, will change to their ultimate southern Thameslink destination at stations like St.Pancras Thameslink, Farringdon, City Thameslink, Blackfriars and London Bridge.
So on a brief analysis, it would appear that Platforms 5 and 6 at East Croydon are not the limiting factor, provided that signalling, track, trains and staff are all working as they should. The platforms also offer valuable interchange opportunities to set up the journey you need.
It gives a simple rule for getting to any of the stations on the various inner branch lines to Caterham, Uckfield, East Grinstead and others not served by Thameslink.
You get any train on either of these branches to East Croydon and then wait on Platform 5/6 for the next train to your ultimate destination.
Thameslink to Tattenham Corner And Horsham
When I went to Gatwick Airport to write about the contactless ticketing, I arrived on Platform 5 at East Croydon on a Horsham train, that had started from London Bridge, that I’d caught at New Cross Gate. These services run twice every hour, as does a service from London Bridge to Tattenham Corner.
When Thameslink is completed, two services to Horsham and two to Tattenham Corner will become all day twelve-car services as follows.
- Peterborough to Horsham. – Currently this service stops at New Cross Gate and Norwood Junction between London Bridge and East Croydon.
- Cambridge to Tattenham Corner – Currently some services stop at Norwood Junction between London Bridge and East Croydon.
Incidentally, I do wonder if the person, who devised the Thameslink schedule was a horse racing enthusiast. A twelve car train from Cambridge to Tattenham Corner would be ideal for getting between the two important racing centres of Newmarket and Epsom.
Will these four services continue to use Platforms 5/6 at East Croydon?
I think they should as it would give all of those places like East Grinstead, Purley, Uckfield and all the other stations currently connected to Platform 5/6, a same-platform interchange to a four trains per hour Thameslink service to the East Coast Main Line.
If passengers want the other northern branch to Luton and Bedfird, they would change in the core.
Will these Thameslink services still continue to stop between East Croydon and London Bridge?
Judging by some of the chatter on the Internet, it looks like there’s a good chance they won’t!
Extra Northbound Destinations From Platform 5 And 6 At East Croydon
East Croydon station frustrates me, in that to get there from my closest station at Dalston Junction is not simple.
- Change at New Cross Gate or Norwood Junction stations.
- Travel to West Croydon station and get the Tramlink.
So could a third northbound destination be added to platform 5 and 6 at East Croydon?
I believe that the answer is yes, especially as there is spare capacity on the East London Line to the North of Surrey Quays station. Although, I doubt that Southern’s trains could run north of that station.
- Personally, I would find a Dalston Junction service to East Croydon, much more useful than the current one to West Croydon.
- Crystal Palace possibly has the space.
- It would be very handy, if it were possible to have a terminal platform somewhere in the Shoreditch High Street/Whitechapel area.
- Transport for London are also thinking about a station in the Penge area, where the East London Line and the Chatham Main Line cross.
What is done in the end will depend on the travel statistics. I suspect that the new Penge station and swapping the West Croydon service to East Croydon are the most likely options.
Gatwick Express To Old Oak Common And Milton Keynes
Platform 5/6 At East Croydon is the Southern terminus of a service to Milton Keynes that uses the West London Line.
I believe that this service could be upgraded to be part of Gatwick Express.
- It would use the same trains as the other Gatwick Expresses.
- Hopefully, it could run more than once an hour.
- It would create a simple link from Gatwick Airport to the Midlands and the North.
- It would serve the new Old Oak Common station for HS2, the West Coast Main Line and the North London Line.
- It would terminate at Milton Keynes on the East West Rail Link.
I certainly think, that this is a third route for Gatwick Express.
The Tattenham Corner Paths Won’t Always Be Released
After Thameslink is fully open, two of the services from Tattenham Corner to London Bridge, will become Thameslink services to Cambridge.
But as some Caterham and Tattenham Corner services to Victoria join and split at Purley, this might not mean that two extra paths an hour are available to London Bridge.
I have one question about this Thameslink Tatterham Corner to Cambridge service. Which platforms will it use at
Can South Croydon Help Sort Things Out?
South Croydon station could be a key to providing better services through East Croydon. Look at this Google Map of the station and the junction to the South.
South Croydon Station And Junction
- The station currently has five platforms, but I don’t think it could be called a modern station in terms of facilities.
- The junction south of the station, is where the Oxted Line for Uckfield and East Grinstead leaves the Brighton Main Line.
- The Southern service from Milton Keynes to East Croydon, used to terminate at South Croydon.
Many of the services that use Plstforms 5 and 6 at East Croydon pass through South Croydon and I feel that a properly remodelled station could be an alternative interchange.
I think that South Croydon could also be an alternative terminus for East London Line services that currently go to West Croydon.
Norwood Junction Station
I also find Norwood Junction station frustrating and judging by the calls for some Thameslink services to call at the station, I suspect others do too.
If I’m going south on the East London Line, I can change to various services to places like East Croydon, Horsham and Tattenham Corner, by just walking across the island platform 5/4.
But going north, you have to dive into a subway to get to platform 1, rather than using the other side of the island platform 2/3.
There will be a lot of Thameslink services passing through the station and if some stopped, it would be possible to have simple cross-platform access between the East London Line and Thameslink.
A New Penge Station
Transport for London have proposed a Penge Interchange station in the Transport Infrastructure Plan for 2050, If it were to be built it would link the East London Line and the \Chatham Main Line, where they crossed just North of Penge West station. I wrote about the station in An Exploration At Penge.
This station could be an interchange between the following services.
- Chatham Main Line
- East London Line
- London Bridge to East Croydon Services
As the site is quite large, there is also space for some terminal platforms facing South.
I have no idea what will happen, but it would seem to be possible to increase the services on the Oxted Line towards the ultimate aim of one every fifteen minutes to both termini.
The simplest solution would see the Oxted Line relegated to a branch line, where some services terminated at a rebuilt and rejuvenated South Croydon station with cross-platform access to Victoria, London Bridge and Thameslink services.
But I do doubt that four services an hour on both branches can be accommodated in the main London termini.
I do think though that there is so much flexibility, that what happens in the end will be a pleasant surprise. And probably totally acceptable to everybody except Disgusted in Tunbridge Wells!
I recently travelled to Gatwick Airport and went via East Croydon station, which is a Zone 6 station and thus Freedom Pass territory for lucky Londoners like me!
I used my Freedom Pass to get to East Croydon, by changing at New Cross Gate from the East London Line.
At East Croydon, I found myself on the well-appointed Platform 5, with its coffee stall, waiting room, information booth and toilets.
The only thing that the platform lacks is an Oyster reader, so that those like me, who need to touch-out and touch-in again, as they are changing from a Zone 6 ticket to contactless for Gatwick Airport, don’t have to walk up and through the barrier.
Incidentally, for those like me who have a Freedom Pass, there is an interesting anomaly. After going through the barrier, I then re-entered the station using my AMEX card, before catching a Bognor Regis/Southampton Central service to Gatwick Airport.
At Gatwick I entered the Airport using my AMEX card and when I checked the statement I found that I’d been charged three pounds for the journey.
Coming back, I bought a ticket in a machine from Gatwick Airport to East Croydon and I was charged three pounds and forty-five pence.
So contactless cards may be cheaper! And the return ticket used my Senior Railcard!
I shall have to travel between East Croydon and Gatwick Airport on a Gatwick Express and see how much I’m charged.
It would seem to me that for Freedom Pass holders, the cheapest way to get to Gatwick, is to use the pass to get to East Croydon, exit the station and then re-enter the station using an Oyster or contactless bank card.
It’s just a pity, there isn’t an Oyster reader on the platform at East Croydon, so that those changing for Gatwick at the station can touch out and touch in again.
But this simple exercise showed that for those wanting to go to Gatwick, using contactless ticketing is the way to go.
I used to hate Gatwick Airport, but now on my short flights to Europe, I often find myself using the Sussex airport, as it is usually an easier train ride, than Heathrow or Stansted.
The South East’s Next Runway
I am coming more to the conclusion, that despite the report of the Airports Commission, Heathrow Airport will never have a third runway, but Gatwick may get a second one, as they can start to plan, for when the deal to not build a second runway with Sussex County Council, runs out in 2019.
- No serious candidate for London Mayor would win an election if they proposed a third runway at Heathrow.
- Heathrow is surrounded by housing, whereas Gatwick is surrounded by more much open countryside.
- The protests over another runway at Heathrow would be enormous.
- In a few years time, Gatwick will have the better rail links and fifteen million people will live within an hour’s train journey of the Airport.
But the main reason is that building a second runway at Gatwick will be a lot easier. Just look at this Google Map of Gatwick Airport.
Note the following about the map and the expansion of Gatwick Airport.
- The second runway will be built to the South of the existing runway.
- There doesn’t appear to be much housing in the area of the proposed new runway.
- The M23 Motorway and the Brighton Main Line run North-South to the East of the Airport.
- A third terminal would be built near to the existing railway line.
- Note in the map, that in addition to the single runway, the taxiway can be used as a runway, if say the runway is under repair or blocked.
The second runway would increase the capacity of the Airport to over 80 million passengers a year.
I’ve always believed that Gatwick could also build a North-South runway over the M23. This was proposed in the 1980s by pilots and with the capability of aircraft increasing all the time, I don’t rule it out at some time in the future.
The Biggest Airport Terminal In The World
I have argued in the past, that when Crossrail and Thameslink are completed, then the following airports and international rail stations will be connected together.
There will also be an easy link to HS2 for the North and Scotland.
As passengers will be increasingly savvy, in many cases they will organise their travel to what is best for them and not the travel agents, airlines and the airports.
I believe that London will sell itself, as a place to break that long journey, just as Singapore and Dubai have done for years.
As the North of England, Scotland and Wales always say, London always wins!
But then London is the capital of the world!
Rail Links To Heathrow Airport
Crossrail should give Heathrow Airport a world-class link to Central London, if they can sort out Crossrail’s access problems to the airport, that I wrote about in Heathrow Express And Crossrail.
The over-priced joke that is Heathrow Express will be on borrowed time once Crossrail opens in 2019.
But there will still be problems with rail access to Heathrow Airport.
- Terminal 5 will not be connected to Crossrail.
- Changing terminals at Heathrow is a chore.
- Heathrow Express only takes passengers to and from Paddington.
- There is no direct rail access to Reading for the West.
- For some parts of London, the Piccadilly Line will still be the best way to go to and from the Airport.
- Access to Continental rail services from Heathrow will be difficult.
You would never describe Heathrow as fully integrated into the the UK’s rail network.
Heathrow will of course argue, that links to Central London are excellent and that those continuing their journey will just change terminals and be on their way.
Obviously, improvements will come, but nothing important for passengers will happen, until Heathrow puts passengers first and drops it’s arrogant attitude, which thinks it is London’s only airport.
Rail Links To Stansted Airport
Stansted Airport has the Stansted Express from Liverpool Street, which runs about four times an hour.
I believe in the next few years, the following will happen.
- Crossrail will arrive at Liverpool Street in 2019, giving one-change journeys to and from Heathrow.
- The West Anglia Main Line will be four-tracked, allowing faster Stansted Express services.
- An improved rail service will be provided to the increasingly important rail hub at Cambridge.
- An extra Stansted Express service will run to Stratford via the new Lea Bridge station.
- Stansted Express will probably get new air passenger-friendly trains.
But the biggest improvement of rail services to Stansted Airport will come, when and if Crossrail 2 is built, as this will make travel to the airport from all over London a lot easier, with just a single change at Tottenham Hale or Broxbourne.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see some Crossrail 2 trains extended to Stansted. After all, the tracks exist and if the airport said to Transport for London, here’s a few million from our petty cash to run Crossrail 2 to Stansted, I’m sure TfL would oblige!
This would give Stansted Airport one-change services to Gatwick, Heathrow and Luton airports, Continental Rail Services and HS2.
Rail Links To Luton Airport
Luton Airport has its own Thameslink station at Luton Airport Parkway.
But also it has plans to expand, as is reported in this article in the Daily Mail, entitled Luton Airport reveals plans for direct rail line that would cut train journey from central London to just 20 minutes.
I think that Luton Airport could use something like Class 387/2 trains, as used on Gatwick Express with an IPEMU capability, so that they could use a branch line without any electrification to underneath the airport terminal.
Rail Links To Gatwick Airport
I found this article in TravelWeekly, which is entitled Gatwick outlines plans for a train departure to London every three minutes.
It gives a very good summary of the train services that will run to Gatwick after Thameslink is completed.
The planned hourly timetable would see:
• Four dedicated Gatwick Express trains to Victoria
• Six trains to Victoria – originating from East and West Coastway, Horsham/Littlehampton, and Three Bridges/Haywards Heath
• Four trains to Bedford via London Bridge – originating from Gatwick and Brighton
• Two trains to Cambridge via London Bridge – originating from Brighton
• Two trains to Peterborough via London Bridge – originating from Horsham
• Two trains to London Bridge – originating from Littlehampton/West Coastway, and Haywards Heath/Three Bridges.
That is a total of twenty trains to and from London and beyond and most of the South Coast from Southampton to Hastings.
How many better rail-connected airports are there anywhere in the world?
The article also quotes Guy Stephenson, the Airport’s Chief Commercial Officer as saying.
The new high frequency service that will serve Gatwick will transform rail journeys for our passengers, with capacity doubling and a train to London every three minutes.
Crucially, the new trains will be much more reliable and will be stacked with amenities suited to the needs of air travellers. Combined with robust new track and signalling systems, Gatwick’s passengers will experience a really pleasant and dependable service.
Overall, the improvements to Gatwick’s rail service means that 15 million people will be brought within 60 minutes of Gatwick by rail – the best reach of any UK airport,
Reading the article, you might think that Thameslink should be called Gatwicklink!
According to this Press Release on the Gatwick Airport web site, Gatwick Airport are going to spend £120.5million on updating the rail station. This is an architect’s impression of the new station.
I also think that Gatwick could extend their Gatwick Express services.
I think we can also see development of Airport services to and from Gatwick Airport station based on the following existing services.
Will we be seeing a second Gatwick Express route from Ashford or Ebbsfleet to Reading via Gatwick Airport?
- It would inevitably get known as the M25-on-rails.
- It gives a large number of passengers a way to get to Gatwick and Continental Rail Services without going through Central London.
- It could serve Heathrow, if they got their act together.
- Surprisingly, I think this route will be quicker to go between Reading and Gatwick, than using Crossrail and Thameslink with a change at Farringdon.
- The trains for such a service could be the same as the new Class 387/2 Gatwick Expresses, but with an IPEMU capability.
But it wouldn’t be just an Airport service, as I suspect that given adequate parking at stations, it would become a valuable cross-country route linking the rail hubs of Ebbsfleet, Gatwick and Reading. After all, North of London, the East West Rail Link is being created from Reading to Cambridge via Oxford, Milton Keynes and Bedford.
Southern also run a service from Milton Keynes to South Croydon via the West London Line. In the future this service will serve Old Oak Common station on Crossrail, HS2, the West Coast Main Line and the North London Line.
So will this service be extended from South Croydon to Gatwick and become a third Gatwick Express service?
These two additional Gatwick Express services would greatly increase or ease the airport’s links across the wider South East and to HS2 services out of Euston.
The only problem, is the overcrowding on the Brighton Main Line.
Gatwick will become the best rail-connected airport in the UK and will get a second runway!
The following sections sum up the rail services to the various London airports.
London City Airport
London City Airport may only be small, but some people use it a lot. I never have, but that’s not for dint of trying. It’s just that if I include all the factors, by which I choose a flight, it hasn’t come out top yet!
London City Airport is only on the Docklands Light Railway, but when Crossrail is open and Bank station has been fully upgraded in 2021, it will be a relatively easy airport through which to travel.
Crossrail passes very close to the Airport and passive provision has been made for a Silvertown station that could be connected to the Airport. At present, the Docklands Light Railway provides enough capacity.
Eurostar is the cuckoo in the nest and should be included, as it will offer rail services to a couple of European Airports.
By the early 2020s, there will be new direct or single-change services to France, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland.
I also suspect that one of the first extensions of Crossrail will serve Ebbsfleet International station, so it will give a lot more passengers easy access to European services.
This year the rail links to Gatwick Airport are getting a major upgrade.
And increasingly, as the next few years roll on, various developments will or could happen.
- Thameslink and particularly London Bridge station will have greater capacity.
- Thameslink will add many direct trains to new destinations like Cambridge, Stevenage and Peterborough.
- Thameslink and other developments, will mean that nearly all stations East of the Midland Main Line, will have access to Gatwick Airport through with only a single change at a convenient interchange like Bedford, Cambridge, Farringdon, Finsbury Park, Luton, Peterborough or Stevenage.
- The dreadful links to the Thameslink platforms at St. Pancras, from some other lines at Kings Cross and St. Pancras will be improved.
- An IPEMU variant of the Class 387 Gatwick Express could easily reach Reading on an hourly-basis, to give single-change access between Gatwick Airport and Wales and the West.
- The East Coastway and West Coastway routes could be extended to Ashford and Bournemouth respectively, improved with more and faster trains and a better interchange to Gatwick services at Brighton.
But I believe that what would transform train services to Gatwick, is when the whole of the area from Weymouth and Reading in the west to Ramsgate in the East becomes part of London’s Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing area.
Heathrow Airport will have to wait until December 2019 before it gets any more capacity to Central London, in the shape of Crossrail.
Until then, it will have to make do with the current services.
- The very crowded and slow Piccadilly Line.
- The infrequent Heathrow Connect.
- The overpriced and much unloved Heathrow Express.
But there are serious problems.
- The rail lines into the airport are designed to maximise revenue for Heathrow, rather than the convenience of passengers.
- Crossrail hasn’t been designed to serve Terminal 5 directly. How daft is that?
- Links to the West are atrocious and rely on going into London and out again. Gatwick has better links to Reading!
- As I wrote in Heathrow Express And Crossrail, Heathrow and TfL are still arguing about access for Crossrail into Heathrow.
- Boris has indicated that Freedom Passes will be allowed on Crossrail to Heathrow.
- Heathrow Express will be killed by Crossrail, if Heathrow allows it to serve the airport.
- Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports will become part of London’s Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing area. Will Heathrow?
- Improved rail links and services at Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports will make these airports more attractive for a lot of passengers than Heathrow.
On top of all this, Heathrow needs Crossrail to give the Airport connectivity to large parts of the South East, the West Coast Main Line and HS2.
I think all candidates for the next London Mayor, will be playing the anti-Heathrow card frequently and with immense relish.
In the end Heathrow will have to accept the following.
- The closure of Heathrow Express.
- Full access of Crossrail directly to all terminals, at an agreed price with TfL.
- Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing.
- A rail link from the West, under probably Network Rail, Great Western and TfL control.
If they don’t like it, then I’m sure Gatwick, Luton and Stansted Airports will take up the slack.
Luton Airport is in some ways the joker in the pack, but also it has plans to expand, as is reported in this article in the Daily Mail, entitled Luton Airport reveals plans for direct rail line that would cut train journey from central London to just 20 minutes.
In Will Bombardier Develop The Ultimate Airport Train, I discussed Luton Airport in detail and came to the conclusion that if Bombardier Class 387/2 trains as used on the Gatwick Express were fitted with an IPEMU capability, they could easily use terminal platforms without electrification in a tunnel under the Airport.
Whether they will or not, I don’t know, but there is scope for very affordable solutions to providing a fast rail link into Central London.
Luton Airport is closer than Gatwick is to Central London, so I would expect that Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing, would not be a problem.
Southend Airport is the newest of London’s airports. I know it well from my days as a pilot and occasionally use it on trips to the Netherlands on easyJet.
Operationally for airlines, Southend Airport’s location, close to the Essex Coast is ideal, as it is away from other airports and pilots can get planes in to and out of the airport without too much delay. Also, flights coming in from the East have an uncluttered approach, over the sea and marshland. I once came in to the airport on a flight from Schipol and was on the train from Southend Airport station to Central London, within an hour of boarding the flight in The Netherlands.
I can understand why the Roskill Commission recommended that London’s new airport should be built on Maplin Sands.
This airline-friendly location could drive growth at the airport, especially if the airport keeps its reputation for fast passenger handling.
The Airport talks about handling two million passengers by 2020 and I can’t feel that this is unreasonable.
What could help passenger growth is that there is plenty of scope for making rail trips to Southend Airport easier, especially for Southend’s typical traveller with just hand-baggage and perhaps a wheeled case.
At present Southend Airport and Southend Victoria have three services to and from Liverpool Street per hour, which stop at all stations between Shenfield and Southend Victoria and then just Stratford and Liverpool Street. This is a recent upgrade, as Wikipedia says one train stops at all stations.
Journey times are as follows.
- Liverpool Street – 64 minutes – Just four minutes longer than Stansted.
- Stratford – 57 minutes
- Shenfield – 27 minutes
Capacity isn’t a problem as all stations can take eight-car trains.
The airport station is very close to the terminal and is fully step-free. Incoming passengers from the London direction, don’t even have to cross the railway to get to the terminal.
Crossrail and the new East Anglia franchise will certainly have effects, some of which have already happened.
- Between Shenfield and London there will be at least eight high-capacity Crossrail trains per hour.
- Will Crossrail run on a twenty-four hour basis?
- Shenfield will have Oyster and contactless card ticketing. Will this go all the way to Southend Victoria?
- Shenfield will be Freedom Pass territory.
- Will Norwich-in-Ninety improvements mean that times between Shenfield and London are reduced?
- Will more of the longer distance services to East Anglia, stop at Shenfield for interchange with Crossrail?
I suspect that the answer to the two last questions, will be yes. This improved connectivity and reduced journey time, would mean that a lot of places in East London, Essex and East Suffolk, would be just one change at Shenfield away from Southend Airport.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see some upmarket trains between Southend Victoria and Liverpool Street, with a four trains per hour frequency. Partly, this will be driven by the airport, but also by the competition for passengers between the two companies running services to Southend.
Stansted Airport is currently served by the adequate but slow Stansted Express.
Stansted Airport is owned and operated by the ambitious Manchester Airports Group and I can’t see them sitting idly by, whilst Gatwick and Luton expand into their market. After all, they have resources that other airports in the South East lack; space and spare capacity on the current runway.
The rail links need improvement and these will or could happen in the next few years.
- The West Anglia Main Line will be developed and given four tracks between at least Broxbourne and Lea Bridge stations, with higher speed limits.
- There will be a higher frequency for Stansted Express trains into Liverpool Street.
- Stansted Express will serve Stratford several times an hour.
- Stansted Airport station will gain a second tunnel and platform.
- There will be an improved service between Stansted and Cambridge.
- Stansted Airport will become part of London’s Oyster and contactless bank card ticketing area.
The service between Cambridge and Stansted is a truly inadequate, single train per hour to and from Birmingham via Peterborough and Leicester.
I believe that when the new East Anglian franchise is awarded, the route north from Stansted will see the greatest improvement. Note that Thameslink will have four trains per hour to Cambridge going through London of which two will go all the way to Gatwick Airport and Brighton.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see two half-hourly services added to the airport.
- Stansted Airport to Peterborough via Cambridge, Cambridge North and Ely.
- Stansted Airport to Norwich via Cambridge, Cambridge North and Ely.
Even if the current Birmingham service was cut back, this would still give four trains per hour between Stansted Airport and one of its most important catchment areas.
Note how Cambridge North station, which serves the North of the City and the Cambridge Science Park, will be given good rail links.
In Better East-West Train Services Across Suffolk, I wrote about a radical idea of Network Rail to create a much improved service between Peterborough and Ipswich, based on a rebuilt Newmarket station.
But who knows, what will actually happen? I don’t!
But whatever happens to the North of Stansted Airport, the rail links to the airport will be much improved by 2020 or so.
Road improvements will not be numerous, but one new road will effect the use of airports.
If a new Lower Thames Crossing is built, it could make driving to Gatwick, Stansted and Southend Airports easier and some travellers will shun Heathrow.
On the other hand, if it wasn’t built, it might favour other airports.
All of London’s six airports, except probably London City will be seeing large investments in rail infrastructure, stations and trains in the near future.
Heathrow won’t like it, but I think the political consequences for the major parties of a new runway at Heathrow will make it unlikely that Heathrow gets another runway.
But given the rail infrastructure, I suspect that the other airports will take up the increased traffic for several years.
Gatwick, Luton and Stanstead will get very much improved services and I think Southend could become a Luton in the East.
As passengers will get increasingly savvy as to the routes they use, it will be very difficult to predict how the transport pattern to London’s Airports, will look say in 2025.
I’ll finish by listing some ideas I’ve read over the years.
There’ll be others and some might even be built.