This new Thameslink rail timetable is the reason that British Airways is expanding at Gatwick

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Well, that headline clearly isn’t totally true.  Expansion plans need slots, so the demise of Monarch last Autumn was clearly one of the catalysts for BA’s renewed push at Gatwick.

Slots needs passengers, however.  Getting to Gatwick has, for many people who live or work in Central London, always been a key issue.  If you have ever taken a taxi from Gatwick into London you will soon realise – as you crawl through the suburbs – that it is about 10% as convenient as getting a taxi from Heathrow which drops you immediately onto the M4.

We are now getting very close to the launch of the new Thameslink rail programme.  The reopening of London Bridge station recently (see here) is another milestone.

If you are over 40 years old and live in London you will probably remember that this programme was originally called Thameslink 2000, because the year 2000 was the original completion date.  Bless Network Rail.

Another set of delays (see BBC report here) means that it will be December 2019 and not December 2018 before the full Thameslink timetable is in effect.  However, the route from Brighton via Gatwick to Central London will increase to 18 trains per hour in May 2018 and 20 trains per hour in December 2018.

Here is what it means in practice.  This screenshot, from, shows the current Thameslink timetable with the proposed new one (click to enlarge):

This is the timetable from Gatwick to London Bridge.  There will be eight Thameslink trains an hour into the centre.  Four of these trains will go up the Thameslink line and the other four will head up the Great Northern line via Finsbury Park, Potters Bar, Welwyn Garden City and Stevenage.  Two will terminate in Cambridge and two in Peterborough.

The key thing to remember is that the existing Gatwick Express and Southern services are planned to remain.  This means you will be looking at 20 trains per hour into Central London from Gatwick. Getting to the airport will be a little harder since no single station will see all 20 trains stop at it.  However, eight per hour out of the core Thameslink stations is impressive and makes it a ‘turn up and go’ service.

BA’s major investment in Gatwick may turn out to be a smart one.

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  1. The new trains on the Thameslink route are a step back from the old ones due to the lack of plug sockets on them (I think they’re only in 1st class). Had a delayed arrival back into Gatwick last year which meant there was no more Tube. Phone was dead so couldn’t request uber or a taxi so was stuck with getting on a night bus.

    Much prefer Gatwick over Heathrow for an early flight though, due to the 24 hour train service from Blackfriars. A 7am flight from Heathrow is either very difficult or expensive to make for those who live in east London. I still have nightmares about getting the N9 night bus to Heathrow

    • The night train service to Gatwick is to be permanently scrapped from May this year.

      • Really? Then that would actually make it better for me to fly from Stansted in the future for early departures

      • Thameslink runs 24 hours a day (aside from a few hours between late sat eve and sunday morning)..!!

  2. We live in North Lincolnshire and on Dec. 27th (day after holidays and heavy overnight snow in Midlands/South) our son caught the 07.55 train from our rural station for the 45 minute ride to Doncaster where he changed to Virgin East Coast for Kings X, underground Kings X to London Bridge for Gatwick Express and he was in the airport buying his lunch at 12.15! He was lucky that all the train connections lined up and the snow only delayed his train by 10 minutes into Kings X but when the M62 is closed/busy (most days) it can take as long to drive to Manchester airport and whilst KLM from Humberside via Schipol can be good their fares/connection times are not always the best!

    • Gatwick Express from London Bridge?

    • No need to go to London Bridge, just walk across the road from Kings X to St Pancras, go down two escalators, and get the Thameslink direct to Gatwick from there.

  3. flyforfun says:

    Looking forward to more trains from London Bridge, particularly if there is just the one stop at East Croydon. Much cheaper and quicker to East London – but lets see when the Elizabeth line opens. However I get the impression there will only be 4 trains an hour to LHR, 2 from each “branch” due to the fees Heathrow Corporation want to charge for the line access.

  4. He told me Gatwick Express but maybe he was wrong – that’s definitely where he caught his Gatwick train and it was direct from there, plus he said the single fare was about £5 cheaper than if he’d got on it wherever it started (Victoria I think). He’s a 19 year old student so his conversations can be a bit restricted, however where money is concerned he’s usually accurate and he was definitely at Gatwick when he called us at 12.15!

    • Sounds like he was on the ordinary London Bridge Southern train to Gatwick – which was entirely the correct thing to have done from a costs perspective! Gatwick Express runs only Victoria – Gatwick – Brighton (and back) and is the more expensive option, for little if any time saving.

    • RussellH says:

      Yes, not “Gatwick Express”, just an express service to Gatwick.. I thought that I was a stickler for correct rail usage, but I am not sure that I would have criticised!

      Well done your son for a slick use of public transport.

      • I didn’t criticise, I said it was the correct service to do for cost – but non-regular travellers on those routes could get confused.

  5. IslandDweller says:

    To add to the confusion, all trains between central London and Gatwick are operated by the same company. Southern, Express and Thameslink are only brand names, they’re not separate legal entities. On some occasion stock gets swapped about, it’s entirely possible that a train painted in the Express colours was used to operate a Thameslink service into London Bridge.
    I’m sure because I’ve travelled on ‘wrong brand’ services into London Bridge myself.

    • Yes it’s Go Via. Possible I suppose – but I’ve never actually seen GX stock run to London Bridge, I’ve been on GX stock many times on a Southern Service.

  6. I’m a daily Thameslink commuter, with weekly hops on the Southern network. I’m fairly accustomed to delays and cancellations, but I must say, if I had to vote for my preferred airport in terms of accessibility, it’d be Gatwick. It goes without saying that I would not be making the same claim had I been living in central London.

    While Crossrail may or may not help with making Heathrow more accessible to greater south Londoners, I must say that a rail link to Heathrow from Clapham Junction is the one plan that I always hoped would gain traction (it failed to generate anything more than some mild press coverage a few years back – I suppose it’s dead now). The Heathwick rail plan is also dead, I suppose.

    Terminal 5 remains an outpost (unless you’re driving from Slough…) simply because it’s so far away from the ‘centre of gravity’ – flying from T2/3 is a joy in terms of connectivity, while T4 is as far away from Hatton Cross as T2/3.

  7. Lady London says:

    That’s very interesting Island dweller. For huge chunks of the past year the only trains running on the Gatwick route from Farringdon/Citylink/Blackfriars line were Thameslink. This seemed mostly due to industrial action by Southern Railways staff and a very few tech issues on Southern side Thameslink trains were for so much of the time the only ones running. For most of a year I made every flight to Gatwick on time at peak hours in both directions. Thameslink trains did not let me down only some delays rarely on the return. But if they’re trying to put 20 trains an hour through that overloaded East Croydon link then I don’t expect to be so lucky next year.

  8. George

    T4 and T5 are 5 minutes away from T1/2/3 on the free Heathrow Connect or Express trains. It’s really a non-issue which terminal I fly from except that, as BA Gold, I prefer T5 for its FirstWing checkin and First lounge.

    • Hi Martin –

      Five minutes is indeed all it takes to move between terminals once you’re at the platform and have just boarded the train itself. Unfortunately, changing from the bus station to the tube (or HEX), waiting for the service to come, and then get to where you’re going in the end, becomes a more prolonged transfer which, could add to more than 15 minutes (more with luggage).

      This can be even more if you opt for the free buses serving the airport perimeter. I once (stupidly) got off at Hatton Cross station (I was on a bus terminating at T2/3, but wanted to go to T4) and changed there to a bus for T4. Got stuck in traffic (!) for 45 minutes on a journey that should have taken less than 10.

      It’d be a non-issue for me too if I were, for example, already on the Piccadilly line and the choice was to get off either at T2/3 or T5. Same for HEX. I’ve used it, and the tube, to get between terminals, but, it is my feeling that if you’re coming from the south-south-east, it’s a bit more problematic. One thing that would help, for me, would be to make Hatton Cross part of the FTZ, and not for interchange only. It’d be a quick win.

  9. It is worth pointing out you can use an Oyster card from Gatwick to Central London now. Like others i find it an easy change from the North of England, and at 44 mins it will be far quicker to get to LGW than LHR.

    The train station at LGW struggles significantly with volumes of passengers. I see service to StP is increasing from 2 to 4tph, hopefully this will spread the load a little and reduce the overcrowding.

    • Genghis says:

      And remember that beeping out at East Croydon and beeping back in saves money. Maybe useful if a Victoria train comes at first but you’re headed to London Bridge.

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