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Gatwick Express

Gatwick Express
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 Great Northern Franchise
26 July 2015 – September 2021
Main Route(s): London Victoria - Gatwick Airport
Other Route(s): Brighton, Eastbourne
Fleet size:

24 Class 442 Wessex Electric

1 Class 73
Stations called at: 8
Stations operated: 0
Route km operated: 43.3
National Rail abbreviation: GX
Parent company: Govia Thameslink Railway
Gatwick Express Route Map
London Victoria
Gatwick Airport
Peak times only:
Haywards Heath
Wivelsfield (northbound only)
Burgess Hill
Preston Park

Gatwick Express is a high-frequency rail passenger service between London Victoria and Gatwick Airport in South East England. It became a part of Govia Thameslink Railway train operating company in July 2015.

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, being merged into the Southern franchise, although it continues to maintain its own identity. Some peak-hour Gatwick Express services now continue beyond Gatwick Airport to Brighton.


  • History 1
    • Express service 1.1
    • Privatisation 1.2
  • Services 2
  • Tickets and fares 3
  • Performance 4
  • Rolling stock 5
    • Current fleet 5.1
    • Past fleet 5.2
    • Future fleet 5.3
  • Future 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


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

In May 1984 the non-stop Gatwick Express service began, using Mark 2 stock. A 30-minute journey time was advertised, although some journeys would take nearer 35 minutes, especially during peak hours.

The first unit was taken on a promotional tour of the UK introducing it to travel agents in various centres, thought to be the first time a Southern Region train had travelled north.


Original privatisation era logo from 1994

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[1] in March 1994.[2] The Gatwick Express franchise was awarded by the Director of Passenger Rail Franchising to National Express with the franchise starting on 28 April 1996.[3]

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[4] 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.[5] On 9 June 2009 the Department for Transport announced that Govia[6] had retained the franchise beginning on 20 September 2009.[7]


Class 73 hauling Mark 2 stock on a Gatwick Express service through Clapham Junction

The main service operates every 15 minutes, taking 30 minutes to cover the 27-mile journey from London Victoria to Gatwick.

In April 2007 the Department for Transport announced that the Gatwick Express franchise was to be incorporated into the South Central franchise.[8][9] This was part of a plan to increase capacity on the Brighton Main Line by extending peak-hour services from Gatwick to Brighton and Eastbourne from December 2008. This doubled the number of London to Brighton express trains during those periods.

Tickets and fares

London - Gatwick is one of the few journeys on the UK National Rail network for which passengers are required to choose between different operators when buying tickets — on all other flows shared by different National Rail operators tickets for immediate travel are inter-available, although some restrictions may apply on cheaper tickets. Through tickets for which the London-Gatwick line is part of a permitted route are valid on the Gatwick Express, provided they are not endorsed Not Gatwick Express. Tickets from London to stations south of Gatwick generally bear this restriction. Southern tickets to Redhill can be used in emergencies, as the train stops there during such times.

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.[10][11] 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.[12]


In May 2013 the Chairman of Gatwick Airport, Roy McNulty, criticised Gatwick Express 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.[13]

Rolling stock

A Class 460 passing through East Croydon

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 Goods Luggage Van took over the services, hauled by Class 73 locomotives.[14]

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 were never called into service and returned to SouthWest Trains.

To provide extra capacity on the services extended to Brighton, from December 2008 seventeen refurbished Class 442 Wessex Electrics, last used by South West Trains, began to enter service. After retaining the franchise in 2009, Southern leased the remaining seven Class 442s.

The Class 460s were withdrawn from service in September 2012. The Class 460s have been merged with the mechanically similar British Rail Class 458 units used by South West Trains in order to provide more stock at peak times.

Gatwick Express's fleet is maintained at Stewarts Lane depot.

Current fleet

Class Image Type Top speed Number Built Notes
mph km/h
Class 73 electro-diesel locomotive 90 145 1 1962 73202, painted in current Southern livery, used as a Thunderbird
Class 442 formerly Wessex Electric Electric multiple unit 100 160 24 1988–1989 Transferred from South West Trains in exchange for the Class 460s enabling them to be merged with the Class 458s in order to increase capacity, also used on Southern Brighton Main Line services.

Past fleet

Class Image Type Number Cars per set Built Withdrawn Notes
Class 488/2 Converted Mark 2 carriages 10 2 1983–1984 2005
Class 488/3 19 3
Class 489 (GLV) electric multiple unit 10 1 1983–1984 2005
Class 460 (8GAT) Juniper electric multiple unit 8 8 2000–2001 2012 To be merged with the Class 458 units used by SouthWest Trains to form Class 458/5.

Future fleet

In May 2014 the franchise was awarded to Govia Thameslink Railway. Govia have also announced in addition to the new Thameslink trains they will order new trains for the Brighton and Gatwick Express routes; 108 carriages are expected. A franchise commitment is to replace the Class 442 in 2016.[15][16]

 Class  Image Type  Top speed   Number   Cars per set   Seat layout   Routes operated   Built   Years operated   Notes
 mph   km/h 
Class 387/2 EMU 110 177 27 4 2+2 Brighton & Gatwick Express route 2015 From 2016 Govia have also announced in addition to the new Thameslink trains they will order new trains for the Brighton and Gatwick Express routes; 108 carriages are expected.


The Department for Transport has announced that, at the conclusion of the Southern franchise in July 2015, the South Central franchise will be merged into the proposed new Thameslink Southern Great Northern franchise.[17][18]

In March 2012 the Department for Transport announced that Abellio, FirstGroup, Govia, MTR and Stagecoach had been shortlisted to bid for the new franchise.[19] 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.[20]

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 will be operated by Govia Thameslink Railway, which is also owned by Southern's parent company, Govia. The Gatwick Express brand identity will be retained.

There are also plans to extend alternate Gatwick Express services to Brighton.

See also


  1. ^ Gatwick Express company no 2912338. Companies House.
  2. ^ Vincent, Mike (April 2004). The Intercity Story. OPC Railprint.  
  3. ^ "Our History". Gatwick Express. Retrieved 21 February 2010. 
  4. ^ New Southern Railway Limited company no 3010919 Companies House
  5. ^ "Bidders for South Central franchise announced" (Press release). Department for Transport. 20 August 2008. 
  6. ^ Southern Railway Limited company no 6574965.Companies House.
  7. ^ "Retention of South Central franchise" (Press release). Go-Ahead. 9 June 2009. 
  8. ^ "Agreement signed to amend Gatwick Express and Southern franchises" (Press release). Department for Transport. 19 June 2007. 
  9. ^ "Agreement to Amend Gatwick Express and Southern Franchises" (Press release). Go-Ahead. 19 June 2007. 
  10. ^ "Gatwick Extension". Southern railway. December 2008. Retrieved 23 December 2008. 
  11. ^ "Gatwick Express - New Extended Service". Southern. December 2008. Retrieved 3 January 2009. 
  12. ^ "Ticket gates - Gatwick Express". Southern Railway. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  13. ^ Cecil, Nicholas (20 May 2013). "'"Gatwick Express 'veers towards Third World conditions. London Evening Standard. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  14. ^ Rail Magazine (520), 17 August 2005: 6 
  15. ^ "New rail franchising deal set to transform passenger services across London and south east". Department for Transport (DfT). 23 May 2014. Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  16. ^ "Govia wins Thameslink rail franchise". BBC News Online. 23 May 2014. Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  17. ^ Thameslink Franchise. Official Journal of European Union notice. 19 December 2011.
  18. ^ Consultation on the Combined Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise Department for Transport May 2012
  19. ^ "Bidders to oversee improvements on rail franchises announced" (Press release). Department for Transport. 29 March 2012. 
  20. ^ "West Coast Main Line franchise competition cancelled" (Press release). Department for Transport. 3 October 2012. 

External links

  • Official website
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
2008 - 2015
Succeeded by
Govia Thameslink Railway
Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise
Preceded by
South Central (incl Gatwick Express) franchise
Sub-brand of Thameslink Southern Great Northern Franchise
2015 - present
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