Major concern over plans to stop overnight rail services

Gatwick Airport, the Coast to Capital LEP – covering an area including Croydon, East Surrey, Gatwick Diamond, Brighton & Hove, Lewes and West Sussex – Gatwick Diamond Business – which represents 400 businesses across the region – and Crawley MP, Henry Smith, have all today expressed serious concerns about Govia Thameslink Railway’s (GTR) plans to permanently stop overnight rail services on the Victoria branch of Brighton mainline as they potentially risk damaging the regional economy.

The proposals mean that:

·         During the week, there will be no Southern or Gatwick Express trains from Victoria to anywhere south of East Croydon between just past midnight and 0440.

·         There will be a 70% reduction in overnight and early morning services on the Brighton Mainline from Victoria and around 50% from London overall.

·         GTR proposes a limited stop service from Blackfriars instead – in addition to Friday and Saturday night services from Victoria – however only two trains will continue south of Three Bridges.

The proposed changes would leave many residents, passengers and staff travelling to Gatwick, Crawley, Horsham and stations to Brighton, Eastbourne and Worthing without a suitable public transport option to get to work early, make morning meetings in Europe, take early flights or get home from a night out – potentially damaging the regional economy.

Jeremy Taylor, CEO Gatwick Diamond Business – an organisation that represents 400 companies across the region said:

The consultation documents provide no explanation about why such a dramatic cut in the service is proposed but it is thought to relate to requests from Network Rail for access to maintain the line. We think the lines can be taken out of service for shorter periods or in a smarter way to avoid such a harsh slashing of the existing service. 

We are raising these concerns publically before a public consultation on the issue closes in just a few days – on the 20 December – and we are urging key regional organisations – including local government and other businesses – and also individuals that rely on these services to make their views known via the GTR website consultation page.” (See notes below)

Up to one fifth of Gatwick’s passengers departing the airport, and up to 30% of staff, travel to the airport before the first London Victoria train of the day. There is a similar picture for inbound passengers arriving late at night.

As a major employment hub, with around 600 organisations and 24,000 staff on site, and as a major international airport where the first flights leave at 6am and the last returns at around midnight, Gatwick fears that pulling these rail services will impact on its ability to provide a world class passenger service and make it prohibitively difficult for those working early or late shifts to get to and from work.

 Guy Stephenson, Chief Commercial Officer, said: 

“Gatwick has grown into one of Europe’s most important international airports and these proposals are a backward step and run contrary to measures elsewhere, with many of our counterparts in Europe and even TfL now offering 24 hour services.

We have already seen the impact this will have. These services have been suspended as a temporary measure for several months and we have to deal with thousands of stranded passengers every night who do not understand why the last train leaves Gatwick for Victoria just after 11pm.”

People will also be forced to rely on less sustainable modes of travel, including those dropped off by friends and family who would have to travel back from the airport during morning rush hour.

Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, said:

”After years of disruption on the railways serving our region, these proposed cuts will come as a blow.  Thousands of commuters rely on late night and early morning services to get to and from work, businesses need staff and passengers need to get to and from Gatwick.  There must surely be a more clever way of maintaining the track rather than putting a permanent, largescale cut to services in place?”   

Jonathan Sharrock, Chief Executive at Coast to Capital said:

“Overnight services into Victoria are vital for both businesses and visitors to the region and this key growth corridor from the south coast into Victoria has developed steadily over decades.  Suddenly cutting this number of services will impact on people and business that have come to rely on them and could also hold back the regional economy. We recognise the need to maintain the track but would urge a more proportionate approach that will not impact on investment and growth opportunities for the region.”

The proposals mean that no Gatwick Express services will be provided from London between 2245 and 0500 or from Gatwick between 2310 and 0550.  An hourly Southern service will run from Victoria on Friday and Saturday nights.

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