Gatwick Airport station upgrade – a missed opportunity?

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Earlier this month, Network Rail (in partnership with Gatwick Airport Ltd) applied for planning permission to upgrade Gatwick Airport station.

This is being described as a “transformation” and boasts:

  • Almost doubling the size of the rail station concourse
  • Eight new escalators, five new lifts and four new stairways to improve accessibility and passenger flow
  • Widening platforms 5 and 6 to reduce overcrowding
  • Better connections to the south terminal with improved passenger information
  • An attractive new roof structure

Whilst we’re big fans of attractive roof structures (who isn’t?) we feel these proposals lack ambition and commercial sense. This lack of commercial sense will be paid for by you and I, or our children. The spiel that accompanies the announcement shows the number of passengers using the station is up to 19 million a year. 20 years ago it was just 7.5 million. My understanding is that most experts predict the population in the southeast is going to increase over the next 20 years and so therefore one could expect an increasing number will want to use rail services for work, leisure or going on holiday.

Yet these plans only cater for forecast demand up to 2036 or 18 years. It’ll probably take a few years to build and so it’ll last maybe 15 years before needing to be redone. Is this value for money? We know money is tight and the Government is looking to scrimp and save where it can, but bodging something now and passing on a bill for someone else to pick up later is a major reason as to why our rail network is creaking at the seams.

Regular readers will know of our long standing campaign to get through rail services from Kent to Gatwick. We know Gatwick Airport wants this to happen and we know a number of local MPs support it, so where is the ambition for it in this plan?

GTR, or Southern, as most of us know it, is doing its best to frustrate our aims but butchering the Tonbridge to Redhill line and downgrading Redhill’s connections. We’ve had enough and publically call for GTR to be stripped of a line they clearly don’t know how to manage.

Those of us who travel from Kent to Gatwick know how arduous it can be. You either take the train and allow three days to complete your journey (earning up to 80p in Delay Repay claims along the way if you’re lucky) or you travel by car and pay a fortune in parking or taxi fares.  That, and being forced to enjoy the pleasure of crawling along the M25 and the M23 in gridlock. Surely the railway should be used to drive people off the roads and on to trains?

On this measure, these plans don’t make the grade. We urge Network Rail and Gatwick Airport to think again, even if they only modify the plans so as to make a modular upgrade possible later down the line. I can only assume nobody has thought of this as otherwise it would be announced, wouldn’t it?  Network Rail is failing its passengers if it doesn’t add capacity for Kent to Gatwick services.

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