Gatwick Express

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Gatwick Express
Unit 387204 at Crewe on 19th February 2016 01.JPG
Franchise(s)Gatwick Trains
28 April 1996 – 22 June 2008
Part of the South Central franchise
22 June 2008 – 19 September 2009
20 September 2009 – 25 July 2015
Part of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise
26 July 2015 – September 2021
Main route(s)London VictoriaGatwick Airport
Other route(s)Brighton
Fleet size
Stations called at8
Stations operated1
Route km operated43.3
National Rail abbreviationGX
Parent companyGovia Thameslink Railway
Gatwick Express route
London Victoria London Underground
Gatwick Airport Airport interchange
Haywards Heath
Burgess Hill

Gatwick Express is a high-frequency rail passenger service between London Victoria, Gatwick Airport, and Brighton in South East England. It is the brand name used by the Govia Thameslink Railway train operating company on the Gatwick Express route of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise.

The service began in May 1984 with air-conditioned InterCity carriages operated by British Rail. When it was privatised in April 1996, National Express took over the franchise. In June 2008, Gatwick Express ceased to exist as a separate franchise, when it was merged into the Southern train operating company, although it continues to be maintained as a separate identity. In July 2015, Southern including the Gatwick Express service was merged into Govia Thameslink Railway.


Gatwick Airport railway station opened in June 1958. Initially the rail service was provided entirely by London to Brighton stopping services, but more trains began to call with the introduction of the summer timetable in June 1958. One of the key elements of this was the extension of Three Bridges to Bognor Regis stopping services to start and terminate at London Victoria. These trains would run through a reversible platform at Gatwick where a portion would detach and wait in the platform for passengers until the next up train from Bognor Regis was attached and the train would depart for Victoria. For this service British Rail used a small batch of seven Class 402 2HALs in order to work with the trains used on the Bognor Regis services, suitable for airport link use because of their larger luggage space.

This situation lasted until the early 1970s, when increased passenger and luggage travel to the station was rendering the old system obsolete. British Rail therefore decided to adapt a number of Class 423 4VEPs with increased luggage capacity (at the expense of fewer second class seats) and were redesignated as Class 427 4VEGs. The service however remained much the same, with the units attaching and detaching from Bognor Regis bound services running via Redhill. This led to somewhat extended journey times which meant the service lacked any real purpose, as the faster services began calling at Gatwick Airport from the early 1970s, and made the option of travelling to Gatwick from London on the service lack appeal to those who knew better.

In 1975 British Airports Authority airport director John Mulkern, British Caledonian Airways chairman Adam Thomson and British Rail's Southern Region regional manager Bob Reid, formed the Gatwick Liaison Group to discuss matters of mutual interest.

As a subsidiary of this, the Gatwick Promotion Group, under the chairmanship of the airport public relations manager David Hurst, was formed to market the airport. One of the first successes of the group was to persuade the British Rail board to redevelop Gatwick station by building a raft over the platforms, and this was opened by British Rail chairman Peter Parker in 1980. It was a long-term aim of the group to have a non-stop service between the airport and central London in order to counter the perceived distance from the capital both to the UK market and to potential passengers at the overseas destinations.

At first the service from Bognor Regis, which by this stage only stopped at East Croydon, was branded Rapid City Link.

Express service[edit]

In May 1984 the non-stop Gatwick Express service began, using Class 73s with Mark 2 carriages.[1] A 30-minute journey time was advertised, although some journeys would take nearer 35 minutes, especially during peak hours.[citation needed]


Original privatisation era logo from 1994
Logo introduced by National Express and retained by Southern until 2016

Gatwick Express was the first portion of British Rail's InterCity sector to be converted into a separate train operating unit, ready for franchising as a private business with the assets transferred to Gatwick Express Limited[2] in March 1994.[3] The Gatwick Express franchise was awarded by the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising to National Express with the franchise starting on 28 April 1996.[4]

Operated by Southern[edit]

In April 2007 the Department for Transport announced that the Gatwick Express franchise was to be incorporated into the South Central franchise and the services transferred to Southern[5] on 22 June 2008.

On 20 August 2008 the Department for Transport announced that Abellio, Govia, National Express and Stagecoach had been shortlisted to bid for the new South Central franchise.[6] On 9 June 2009 the Department for Transport announced that Govia[7] had retained the franchise, beginning on 20 September 2009.[8]

Operated by Govia Thameslink Railway[edit]

The Department for Transport confirmed prior to the awarding of the new franchise that the Southern franchise would be merged at its conclusion in July 2015 into the proposed Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise.[9][10]

In March 2012 the Department for Transport announced that Abellio, FirstGroup, Govia, MTR and Stagecoach had been shortlisted to bid for the new franchise.[11] The Invitation to Tender was to have been issued in October 2012, and the successful bidder announced in Spring 2013. However, in the wake of the InterCity West Coast refranchising process collapsing, the Secretary of State for Transport announced in October 2012 that the process would be put on hold pending the results of a review.[12]

With the last franchise expiring on 25 July 2015, the South Central franchise merged with the Thameslink Great Northern franchise to create Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern. This is operated by Govia Thameslink Railway, which is also owned by Southern's parent company, Govia. The Gatwick Express brand identity has been retained. Oyster cards and contactless payment cards have been accepted for travel between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport since January 2016.[13]


Interior of a Gatwick Express branded Class 387

The standard weekday and Saturday service pattern is one train every 15 minutes between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport (non-stop), with alternate services then extended to Brighton (non-stop from Gatwick) every 30 minutes. At peak times on weekdays, all Gatwick Express trains are extended to/from Brighton, giving Brighton a service every 15 minutes; additional stops are also made during this time at Hassocks (all services) and either Burgess Hill or Haywards Heath (alternating between the two). On Sundays, the service pattern between London and the airport is unchanged but there are no extensions to or from Brighton.[14]

In April 2007 the Department for Transport announced that the Gatwick Express franchise was to be incorporated into the South Central franchise.[15][16] This was part of a plan to increase capacity on the Brighton Main Line by extending peak-hour services beyond Gatwick to/from Brighton, with some additionally stopping at Haywards Heath, Wivelsfield, Burgess Hill, Hassocks and/or Preston Park from December 2008 (although all calls at Wivelsfield and Preston Park were withdrawn in May 2018). This doubled the number of London-to-Brighton express trains during these periods. In December 2015 Gatwick Express services were also extended to and from Brighton during the off-peak and in the evening, although these call at no intermediate stations.


London – Gatwick is one of the few journeys on the UK National Rail network for which tickets restricting travel to certain brands of service are available in addition to the option of standard inter-available fares for immediate travel as on all flows shared by different National Rail operators (although some restrictions may apply on cheaper tickets). Through tickets for which the Brighton Main Line line is part of a permitted route are valid on the Gatwick Express service as with all other Govia Thameslink Railway services, the only exclusion being some tickets from London to stations south of Gatwick routed Not Gatwick Express.

Historically, standard Gatwick Express services did not charge penalty fares and permitted tickets to be purchased on board at no extra charge. Journeys to or from stations south of Gatwick were subject to penalty fares as normal.[17][18] This rule applied to the six weekday services each way that start or end at Brighton. However, in December 2011 electronic ticket gates were installed at Gatwick Airport and London Victoria platforms 13 and 14 (where the Gatwick Express arrives and departs), meaning that tickets can no longer be bought on the train and must be purchased either in advance or at the station before boarding.[19]

London Oyster Cards and contactless cards have been accepted for travel since January 2016.[20]


In May 2013 the Chairman of Gatwick Airport, Roy McNulty, criticised the Gatwick Express service for its overcrowding and old rolling stock. He said that the train service sometimes "at times veers towards Third World conditions" and that it gives air passengers arriving in the United Kingdom a bad first impression of the UK, and called for major improvements. Southern responded by stating that it had provided some 20,000 extra peak-hour seats every week on the London-Brighton line.[21]

In August 2018 they were directed by the Advertising Standards Authority (an independent advertising regulator) to remove claims of a 30-minute journey time between London and Gatwick due to poor performance on the line.[22]

Rolling stock[edit]

Exterior of a Class 387 passenger carriage

Govia Thameslink Railway operates a fleet of Gatwick Express branded Class 387/2s which it received during 2016. GTR placed a £145.2 million order with Bombardier for 27 sets of the type in November 2014 to replace the existing Class 442 Wessex Electrics.[23]

The type underwent testing in July 2015,[24] and began to enter passenger service in February 2016.[25] The new trains have 12 carriages compared with 10 for the Class 442, and also feature additional luggage space, wireless internet connectivity and passenger service updates.[26]

In April 2016, drivers belonging to the ASLEF trade union refused to pick up passengers on the new Class 387 trains. The trains are fitted with "Driver-Only Operation" (DOO) capability, meaning that the driver closes the doors using CCTV and decides that it is safe to move off, rather than a guard. DOO had been used on the previous 10-car Class 442, but the union claimed that extending this to 12-car trains put too much pressure on the driver and was unsafe. In response, GTR took legal action, and the union ultimately dropped the claim.[27]

The Gatwick Express branded fleet is maintained at Stewarts Lane depot.

Fleet table[edit]

Class Image Type Top speed Number Built Notes
mph km/h
Class 73 73202 'Dave Berry', Lovers Walk 08-Aug-2013.jpg Electro-diesel locomotive 90 145 1 1962, 1965–1967 73202, painted in current Southern livery, used as a Thunderbird (a railway locomotive that provides replacement power in the event of failure of the booked unit)
Class 387/1 387108 at Kings Lynn.jpg EMU 110 177 1 2014–2015 387105 temporarily hired from Great Northern
Great Northern Class 387 Diagram.png
Class 387/2 Unit 387204 at Crewe on 19th February 2016 02.JPG Electric multiple unit 110 177 27 2015–2016
Gatwick Express Class 387 Diagram.png

Past fleet[edit]

Until 1984 the service was operated by Class 423 slam-door stock, coded 4-VEG (G for Gatwick).

From May 1984 Mark 2F stock released from Midland Main Line duties coupled to a Class 489 Gatwick Luggage Van took over the services, hauled by Class 73 locomotives.[28]

A franchise commitment by National Express was the replacement of these with new stock, and eight Class 460 Junipers started to be delivered from January 1999. Because of reliability problems, some of the old stock remained in service until 2005.

To replace the last of the old stock, a pair of Class 458 Junipers were transferred from South West Trains for use as spares. They remained in their existing livery but with Gatwick Express branding. Their seating was modified from high density 3+2 seating configuration to 2+2 configuration, some seating being replaced with luggage racks. However, these units never entered service and returned to South West Trains. The Class 460s were withdrawn from service in September 2012 to be merged with the mechanically similar Class 458 units used by South West Trains in order to provide more stock at peak times.[29]

The Gatwick Express service received 17 refurbished Class 442 Wessex Electrics from South West Trains from December 2008, followed by a further seven through leases in 2009, after Southern retained the South Central franchise. The additional rolling stock allowed Southern to provide extra capacity on the Gatwick Express services extended to Brighton. The stock were replaced during 2016 by newly built Class 387/2s.

Class Image Type Number Cars per set Built Withdrawn Notes
Class 488/2 8313 at London Victoria.jpg Converted Mark 2 carriages 10 2 1983–1984 2005
Class 488/3 19 3
Class 489 (GLV) 9107 at Wirksworth.jpg Electric multiple unit 10 1 1983–1984 2005
Class 460 (8GAT) Juniper 460007 at London Victoria.jpg Electric multiple unit 8 8 1999–2001 2012 These were merged with the Class 458 units used by South West Trains to form Class 458/5.
Class 460 Gatwick Express Diagram.PNG
Class 442 Wessex Electric 442411 Gatwick Express.JPG Electric multiple unit 16 5 1988–1989 2016 Transferred from South West Trains in exchange for the Class 460s enabling them to be merged with the Class 458s in order to create 10 car trains. Class 442s were also used on Southern Brighton Main Line services.
Class 442 Gatwick Express Diagram.png

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 26 September 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Gatwick Express company no 2912338. Companies House.
  3. ^ Vincent, Mike (April 2004). The Intercity Story. OPC Railprint. ISBN 978-0-86093-524-7.
  4. ^ "Our History". Gatwick Express. Retrieved 21 February 2010.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ New Southern Railway Limited company no 3010919 Companies House
  6. ^ "Bidders for South Central franchise announced" (Press release). Department for Transport. 20 August 2008. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013.
  7. ^ Southern Railway Limited company no 6574965.Companies House.
  8. ^ "Retention of South Central franchise" (Press release). Go-Ahead. 9 June 2009. Archived from the original on 23 November 2012.
  9. ^ Thameslink Franchise Archived 27 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Official Journal of European Union notice. 19 December 2011.
  10. ^ Consultation on the Combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise Archived 17 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine Department for Transport May 2012
  11. ^ "Bidders to oversee improvements on rail franchises announced" (Press release). Department for Transport. 29 March 2012.
  12. ^ "West Coast Main Line franchise competition cancelled" (Press release). Department for Transport. 3 October 2012.
  13. ^ "Oyster reaches Gatwick, as shown on major new TfL rail map". 2016-01-08. Retrieved 2017-03-22.
  14. ^ "Train timetable". Gatwick Express. Retrieved 2017-03-22.
  15. ^ "Agreement signed to amend Gatwick Express and Southern franchises" (Press release). Department for Transport. 19 June 2007. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013.
  16. ^ "Agreement to Amend Gatwick Express and Southern Franchises" (Press release). Go-Ahead. 19 June 2007. Archived from the original on 23 November 2012.
  17. ^ "Gatwick Extension". Southern railway. December 2008. Retrieved 23 December 2008.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "Gatwick Express – New Extended Service". Southern. December 2008. Retrieved 3 January 2009.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ "Ticket gates – Gatwick Express". Southern Railway. Archived from the original on 7 March 2012. Retrieved 14 March 2012.
  20. ^ "Gatwick and Surrey stations to accept Oyster cards and contactless payments | Meridian – ITV News". 2015-11-13. Retrieved 2017-03-22.
  21. ^ Cecil, Nicholas (20 May 2013). "Gatwick Express 'veers towards Third World conditions'". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 23 May 2013.
  22. ^ "ASA Ruling on Govia Thameslink Railway Ltd". Advertising Standards Authority. 1 August 2018. Complaint Ref: A18-445296. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  23. ^ "GTR orders 27 new Class 387-2s to replace Gatwick Express fleet". Rail Technology Magazine. 18 November 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  24. ^ "Gatwick Express Class 387/2 EMU on test". Railway Gazette. 23 July 2015. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  25. ^ "First of 27 new trains starts running on Gatwick Express route". BBC News. 29 February 2016. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  26. ^ "New Gatwick Express trains take off". Rail News. 11 March 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2016.
  27. ^ "Aslef drops legal action and accepts 12-car Gatwick trains". BBC News. 23 June 2016.
  28. ^ Rail Magazine (520): 6, 17 August 2005 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  29. ^ "SWT to merge Class 458 and Class 460 fleets". Rail Express. 5 January 2012. Archived from the original on 5 May 2016. Retrieved 14 April 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • Tait, Geoffrey (1984). The Gatwick Express. G. Tait & Associates Ltd. OCLC 60075526.
  • Allen, Geoffrey Freeman (April 1984). "I'm the new Gatwick Express – Fly me!". Rail Enthusiast. EMAP National Publications. pp. 12–14. ISSN 0262-561X. OCLC 49957965.
  • "Gatwick Express orders new EMU fleet from GEC". RAIL. No. 303. EMAP Apex Publications. 23 April – 6 May 1997. pp. 6–7. ISSN 0953-4563. OCLC 49953699.

External links[edit]

Media related to Gatwick Express at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
As part of British Rail
Operator of Gatwick Express franchise
Succeeded by
South Central franchise
Preceded by
Gatwick Express
Gatwick Express franchise
Sub-brand of South Central franchise
Succeeded by
Govia Thameslink Railway
Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise
Preceded by
South Central (incl Gatwick Express) franchise
Sub-brand of Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise
2015 – present