Light at the end of the tunnel?
09 August 2016 - Jeff Alexander
I am writing this on the first day of the Southern Rail guards strike which follows months of misery for commuters and disruption and loss for businesses. It might seem like the least appropriate time possible to take a positive look at rail transport from a Gatwick Diamond perspective. However, I think it is the right time because with the current all-consuming, and seemingly never-ending, operational problems we are in danger of losing site of a very positive underlying story of investment perhaps on an unprecedented scale.
Gatwick is not just an airport, it has undoubtedly become a transport hub at the heart of the Gatwick Diamond, Coast to Capital and South East regions. It already has the largest catchment by rail of any UK airport - 15 million people are able to get to the airport within 60 minutes.
Connectivity will be ramped up further by the £6.5 billion Thameslink Programme which will deliver a once in a generation improvement to rail services across the South and East of England. We can look further ahead to the impact of Crossrail and HS2. The country, let alone the South East, has not seen this scale of rail investment since the Victorian pioneers.
The Thameslink programme will extend services from Gatwick to 175 stations directly, as far as Oxford, Bedford, Cambridge and Peterborough. Gatwick will be within one easy change to all the main UK Intercity rail lines by 2030. It will bring more frequent and faster train journeys to more locations including departures into central London every 2.5 minutes.
By spring 2018, we will see the transformation of London Bridge Station – the redevelopment works have been a significant factor in the current disruptions but it will be a price worth paying however hard that might be to accept now.
Meanwhile, closer to home, the take-up of Oyster card and contactless payment at Gatwick Station has exceeded all expectations and the new Gatwick Express trains are being introduced. We can look forward to a new state-of-the-art station with Gatwick’s £120 million investment plan, in partnership with the Government, Coast to Capital LEP and Network Rail. The size of the concourse will be more than doubled to support Europe’s largest capacity airport station as befits an airport that now has over 50 long-haul connections.
If you are stuck on an endless train journey or having to work from home, or if you are an employer whose business is suffering, none of this will bring you much comfort just now. However, to use an unfortunate metaphor, there must be light at the end of the tunnel. We will eventually be able to swallow hard and look ahead - not to a return to normality but to a new age of Gatwick Diamond connectivity that will benefit our established businesses and help attract essential new investment.