No One Dies Of Cholera On The Gatwick Express

This is what poverty looks like. Image by cs_smith, taken from the Londonist Flickr Pool

Remember that time you took the Gatwick Express into town, only there weren’t any seats left, so you had to sit on the roof? Or the time you were delayed for two hours because a farmer was herding his cows across the line at East Croydon, and all the local traders popped up to sell you trinkets?

No, of course you don’t, because these things don’t happen on the Gatwick Express. (We’re not entirely sure they happen anywhere, in fact: we’ve shamelessly nicked them from various Michael Palin travelogues dating from the early 1990s.)

That, though, hasn’t stopped Sir Roy McNulty from slating the Victoria-Gatwick rail link as “veering towards Third World Conditions”. “In the short to medium term, our main priority is improvement in the road and rail infrastructure that serves the airport,” he tells today’s Evening Standard, “and above all improvement in the Gatwick Express… It certainly does not present to the visitor the image that we would wish they see.”

Now it’s not that we can’t see his point — when does any aspect of London’s transport infrastructure ever feel up to the job required of it? But his choice of metaphor nonetheless strikes us as just a tad on the hyperbolic side. It’s a slightly rubbish train service: that’s not the same as ‘third world’ anything, and hearing a rich white man describing “forcing business travellers to stand up for half an hour” in the same kind of language you’d use to talk about a famine borders on the offensive.

More to the point, though, there are a lot of things wrong with Sir Roy’s airport that have bugger all to do with its links to London proper. It’s dirty, it’s crowded, the amenities are either dingy or non-existent, and the whole place looks like it hasn’t seen a lick of paint since some time around 1975.

These things also present a poor image of London to the international traveller. What’s more, unlike the Gatwick Express, they’re Sir Roy’s personal responsibility. Funny he doesn’t seem quite so exercised about them, isn’t it?

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Jonn

Article by Jonn Elledge | 94 Articles | View Profile

  • Barney

    The GatEx trains were forced upon Southern by the DfT. the nice new (now defunct) trains sent off to be chopped up and GatEx ended up with crap that should have been scrapped 10 years ago. The trains are pants but the service is pretty darn good!

  • Roger Manser

    The trains always look empty to me, whenever I use to go down from Sydenham to Gatwick. They are fast and there seem like a lot of them. As your article suggests, how about a more frequent mono-rail service? How about more escalators (at arrivals to the monorail)? How about providing a route for travellers that does not go through duty free?

  • Phil

    I agree with the thrust of your article – ‘third world’ is a bit over the top. However, you have made the same mistake as the Evening Standard. You have chosen to illustrate your article with a photograph of the modern purpose built Class 460. These trains have now been replaced by 25 year old units that are totally unsuitable for airport work.

    • AndSOheSAID

      Yup those pointy luggage racks are clearly of the lovely purpose built trains – now no more. What a terrible un-factual article.

  • AndSOheSAID

    So Gatwick hasn’t seen “a lick of paint since 1975″!? Please don’t show your lack of having not been to the place so publicly Jonn. Any fool that has been to Gatwick in the last 15 years can tell you how much has changed there. A new bridge over a taxiway, new links, shops, departure lounge extensions, station upgrades – very little of the old is in fact still left untouched. BILLIONS of pounds have been invested there on the architecture. So Sir Roy’s own patch (had you bothered to visit and / or open your eyes) is quite fine in fact, especially viz a viz the abysmal hand-me-down Gatwick Express trains.

    • Jonn Elledge

      I disagree entirely. Horrendous airport in a way that Heathrow or Stansted just aren’t. Suffered from a terrible lack of investment, largely, I suspect, because BAA knew they were going to be forced to sell the bloody place.

      • AndSOheSAID

        You can lead a horse to water but you certainly can’t make a blind man see.

        • kleesrosegarden

          Gatwick’s crap.

  • Minstral

    They are more close to milk floats anyway – always carrying empties. Be good to rename them the Gatwick Empties!