Express improvement

Govia have been awarded the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise by the Department for Transport (DfT). This is a bid moment for the Gatwick Diamond.

The seven year franchise is the largest in the UK, merging the old Southern and Thameslink ones under a single banner. This is important for the Gatwick Diamond, as it puts the operation of all our key rail routes under single control and, crucially, gives the operator the scale and time to invest in improvements.

At last year’s Forum, we heard a lot from delegates about how rail needed to be improved – electrification of the North Downs link, a return to a dedicated Gatwick-London express service, and better reliability on the Brighton Main Line.

Now some of those concerns can be addressed – not in time to stop discussion at this year’s Forum event (on June 5), but at least we can look forward to improvement now.

The franchise, in their announcement, promise new trains, more services, increased capacity, improved stations. and , better frequency – up from 15 to 24 trains per hour through the Thameslink core in peak periods.

The Gatwick Express will get much-needed new trains – 108 of them – by 2016, providing a better arrival experience for airport passengers. New Thameslink trains are already on order, so the rolling stock should feel significantly better soon.

There will be more direct services to and from Gatwick Airport including a new direct Cambridge to Brighton service and improved Brighton Main Line services. Among other promised improvements would be the welcome introduction of free wifi at 104 stations.

All this could make a real difference to business in the Gatwick Diamond. We need our rail connections to improve continuously, not just to provide better reliability, shorter journey times, and connectivity on the move, but also to take pressure of the road network. If our airport is to grow, then our rail network must take a significant proportion of the load.

The promises have to be delivered, of course, and we must all keep the pressure on the operator and the network to make them reality, but we can at least now expect them rather than hope for them.

The seven year management contract, starting in September 2014, which replaces the Thameslink and Great Northern franchise (operated as First Capital Connect, FCC) will encompass the Southern and Gatwick Express routes from July 2015 and also include a small number of services and stations currently operated by Southeastern which will transfer in December 2014.

Govia is a joint venture between Go-Ahead and Keolis This is the largest rail franchise in the UK in terms of passenger numbers, trains, revenue, and staff.