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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:

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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Comments (66)

  • Paul says:

    Almost 20 years late and slower journey times for some trains that still only service London. In that time the Chinese have built thousands of miles of high speed rail yet the UK has failed to provide any direct rail routes to any airport anywhere in the country. (And I don’t count the Edinburgh tram good as it is)

    Heathrow is still only connected to London and on the most expensive rail line ( mile for mile) than almost anywhere else on the planet. ( It was at one stage more expensive than flying Concorde!)

    In Germany airports like Dusseldorf (single runway) are connected to almost the entire country by high speed, regional and Local trains. One reason the country is doing so well is their superb rail

    • Andy says:

      Manchester Airport has a train station with destinations across the North.

      • Anna says:

        Yes – I got the train from Preston to MAN a couple of months ago. The train was cancelled because the conductor failed to show up for work! Got to the airport by the skin of my teeth ????

        • Tony says:

          Trains from Preston to MIA are fairly regular, half hourly?

        • Tony says:

          MAN even!

        • Lumma says:

          MIA is actually the national rail code for Manchester Airport station so you were right first time

        • Anna says:

          Depends on the time of day. I love it that the station code for Manchester Airport is MIA, makes it sound a lot more glamorous than it actually is!

        • Alan says:

          I managed to get a ticket from Manchester Airport to Slateford in Edinburgh for £8 after my VS flight from Boston – totally painless experience and amazing value for money compared to having to connect from London by flight and then from airport to home in Edinburgh!

    • Graeme says:

      I think if you Google “why German trains don’t run on time” you may get a slightly different perspective on the perceived effectiveness of their rail infrastructure, whist not disagreeing with the essence of your point. I was extremely impressed with Finland’s railways and public transport both in terms of quality, cost and reliability on a recent visit – puts my regular Cross Country train journeys to Birmingham into context.

    • Ben Coyle says:

      Lived in Germany for the last 6 months and the trains are atrocious. Yes they are connected to the airport but worse than the UK in terms of on time percentage in my experience. The saying ‘if you want to see German efficiency, go to Switzerland’ is very true to me. (Funnily enough, a Swiss colleague of mine at work the other day was moaning about the swiss trains – it seems to me that every country moans about their train system and thinks their neighbours are better – except the Japanese maybe).

    • the_real_a says:

      I have traveled on the Chinese high speed trains quite a bit and whilst they are very good indeed and reliable, they are expensive relative to china and unaffordable for the general population and require huge public subsidy. They also run in a straight line with hardly any branch lines (much like HS2 is planned). The other issue is that they terminate in the stix on the outskirts of the cities since it proved impossible to build through to the city center.

  • Paul says:

    All we need is a decent link between Heathrow and Gatwick and/or bring back regional flights into Gatwick.
    Too many BA holiday destinations are now from Gatwick and getting there is a pain from the North.
    Until we get extra runways/capacity we need the airports to work together.

    Ultimately we need decent rail links into all our major airports, that would take away some strain, but can see additional runways before that happens.

    • RussellH says:

      Outwith London, both Birmingham and Manchester have very decent rail connections, both local and long distance, while Edinburgh and Newcastle have good light rail from the city centre and main rail stations. Southampton and Southend are also good among smaller airports. Luton, Liverpool and Glasgow use bus shuttles from a railhead, which is a much less pleasant experience.

  • Lumma says:

    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

    • Yan says:

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

      • lumma says:

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

      • lev441 says:

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

  • Sandra says:

    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!

    • Leo says:

      Gatwick Express from London Bridge?

    • will-h says:

      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.

  • 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.

  • Sandra says:

    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!

    • Leo says:

      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.

      • Leo says:

        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.

  • 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.

    • Leo says:

      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.

  • George says:

    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.

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