Newest Review: ... person". I asked him for his name and he refused, covered up his badge and said "what's your name?". I went to the Gatw... more
To Gatwick...And Beyond!
Member Name: T4imbo3107
Advantages: Quick and reliable service.
Disadvantages: Ticket prices.
In a day and age that travelling from A to B can be a painful and somewhat financially expensive experience, its good to know on the occasional times that you need to get to a major transportation hub that something like the Gatwick Express actually exists. With Gatwick Airport on the main London to Brighton line and located on the Surrey/ Sussex border the Airport couldn't be located in a better place as it relatively equidistance from Brighton as well as Central London at around 26 miles in either direction and I have to say as a resident living in the nearby area that it is well served with trains, busses and coaches. The Gatwick Express is simply what it says on the label, an express service that runs non-stop through South London from London Victoria direct to Gatwick Airport. The journey time is always scheduled at 35 minutes, however when I have used this as a commuter to get to or from work the train always seems to pull in to its destination early rather than later. The trains are fast and you see stations like Redhill, East Croydon and Clapham Junction whizz by so fast that it is a blur to people inside the train. It is an important service as well as it does tend to relieve congestion on the stopping routes meaning that they don't get clogged up by suitcases in the aisle or whole groups of people travelling together. Although this is a good thing there is a downside as well, the fact that you are paying for a express service means that the ticket cost is higher. Considering that the normal single fare from Victoria to Gatwick on a stopping service that will stop at a minimum of three stations en route is around £7 to £9 depending on what time you travel, the Gatwick Express will charge £16.90 single fare. I can you groaning from here, personally this service is covered on my Season Ticket so using this for me doesn't cost me anymore than the £245 I pay monthly to get to and from work and for me it means that I can save money using this everyday that I travel, which includes the weekends when I go to Football as well. I do genuinely think that the price they charge is steep and can see how this is aimed at the business traveller. However from experience I do see a lot of international visitors use this to get to and from the Airport and in the mornings the stage where passengers have to stand can easily be reached quite quickly given the fact that there are a heavy amount of arrivals at that time in the morning of 7am.
There has been a lot of thought in how the service is run, it uses the fast line from Victoria and in my experience is usually given priority as this is a non-stop service, the regularity of the departures at both ends is quite impressive as it is every 15 minutes that a train departs and this are usually in excess of 90% full as well. To cater for this there have been some changes in the manner of which the Gatwick Express is run, firstly the rather impressive Class 450 trains that are unique to the service have been replaced, this is a shames as these trains are quite stylish and modern to look at with the front faintly resembling the Eurostar trains, the insides were light modern and spacious and took into account the luggage requirements of the passengers in question. Seating was a simple two seats, corridor and two seats configuration across the carriage that more than served requirement. I had an issue with the fact they had three First Class carriages as this not only segregated travellers but also meant that half the time there were seats that could have been utilized to soak up the overflow of people standing as the train was ten carriages long yet only seven were Standard Class. The Class 450's are currently being withdrawn and replaced by the refurbished Class 442, these trains used to be owned by South West Trains and in my opinion are ugly to look at and don't stand out at all even though they have been liveried up with the product name on the side of the carriage in the company colouyrs of red, white and blue. The internal layout is the same two seats, carriage and two seat configurations as the Class 450; however the carriages can hold far more people as the seats are closer together meaning that in excess of 100 people per carriage can be transported and this doesn't include people standing! However there is overhead luggage racks for small holdalls or rucksacks that the 450 didn't have, so even though the 442 are superior trains due to the cargo principal of carrying more people the trains are tight on space which at busy periods can make a carriage rather stuffy in nature. I think this is due to the popularity of the service and the area it serves, obviously any successful business will grow over time and this is just one of the successes for Southern in the time they have had with their franchise. When you alight from the carriage the doors are at either end, so if you happen to be sitting in the middle the congestion quickly builds up when the recorded announcement that is played in several different languages there is always people starting a chain reaction to get to the doors, it all starts with one person and then others simply kneejerk thinking they must be first, although it has to be said they do tend to try and get to the impossibly over filled and stacked luggage racks at either end quite quickly.
As you may be aware the London to Brighton mainline is one of the busiest routes in the country given the number of people that use it to get to work and Southern, the owners of the Gatwick Express have done their homework to assist in attempting to find more seats. Naturally Southern had to be concerned as they are the major service player on the main line, so what they have done is using the 442's run a service from Brighton to Victoria and in return in peak hours that serves Haywards Heath, Gatwick and fast to Victoria with the same station on the return journey. This does work and having joined the service at the Airport in the morning means that normal commuters mixing with the new arrivals either coming home or visiting the country, in turn it also relieves pressure on the stopping services considerably, however you cant get away without thinking that this is just a form of stylised herding, again the main problem is the high density 442's that do ram, stack and pack them in. And yes I have been on the last one leaving Victoria which is usually around midnight as well, so the service for me is always there. In fact it does tend to run to the rough outline of the flights to and from Gatwick and even when it has stopped for the night there is an hourly service that stops at the Airport.
The Gatwick Express also runs a trolley service that has Coffee, Tea, Cakes, Biscuits and is also licensed for Alcoholic beverages. If the service is simply going to Gatwick then its usually too short a time to get a Coffee, however for the longer route I do see people using this "at seat" service. Needless to say the prices are a little higher than normal and something that I call "Motorway Service Staion prices" in comparison, a good example is that a small Starbucks branded Coffee is £2.70 on it own. A 500ml can of Fosters or Stellar is around £4, which given the fact that you can buy five cans for that price in Victoria Station is a total rip off.
In this day and age where travel costs can result in a hefty fine if you don't have a ticket, there are a revenue team that walk the train to sell and check tickets, I think this is a good thing as it does annoy me that people try and fare evade for no good reason. There is a team based on board the train and are flexible enough to let people buy a ticket on the train and it will be the same price as advertised as well. The thing that impressed me was the fact that they did offer the traveller a return ticket that saved them money instead of buying to single tickets. This was nice to see and the team showed good customer service at all times. One area that is a problem are people who buy tickets for the stopping service and get on the Gatwick Express, always funny to watch people being told they don't have a valid ticket. In reality this is mentioned as part f the announcements and the Ticket Office staff do say this as well and besides it is sorted out at either terminus by the Revenue Staff. I have to mention that the staff all have their very smart uniform that is unique to the Gatwick Express with read and black colours that remind of the original black and red colours when the service when the Mark 1 slam door carriages were pulled by a Class 73 Locomotive. Now I know that the Gatwick Express is nowhere near the old and very missed Brighton Belle service and that there is no restaurant car on board that will provide a Full English Breakfast throughout the journey either, okay its silly to compare the two as they were a generation apart, yet you do get that feeling that Southern are trying to introduce something with a modern concept along the lines and at the same time satisfy the needs of all their passengers as well.
With the recent snow before Christmas this was the main train service that was running on the Brighton line, okay it was one of the 450's that caused the initial blockage on the first day as the electrical conductor froze to the third rail, but after that Southern introduced the diesel 442's and this eliminated the electrical issues and they still managed to get up to the normal speeds of 80mph!
I have a lot of comfort knowing that I have this service on my doorstep to get to and from work, this easily cuts 20 minutes of my journey time and means if I leave at 7.30am I will be in the office for 8.15, something that I am easily getting used to. It could be considered a little bit of a tourist trap as well due to the fact that this seems to be the preferred method by visitors to the country and from their point of view it is better to use this than sit with the weekday commuters, however as this is the first thing outside the Terminal that the visitors will use, it does concern me that the price of the single ticket will paint the wrong picture from the tourism aspect given the comparison of the price of the stopping service that in some cases can take a little over ten minutes longer in journey time and can work a lot cheaper in cost.
I like using this as it is the means to get me to and from work, the chairs aren't as comfortable as I would expect them to be and legroom is a luxury if you are at a table of four, however it also means that I don't have to stand and that my journey time is shorter and as I said at the beginning this is included in my Season Ticket, I'm on to a winner as I don't extra to sit on the Gatwick Express, yet I can see both sides of the argument when it comes to ticket price.
Summary: It all looks a blur at 80mph!
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