Go-Ahead Seeks Fix for Gatwick Crush With Tourist-Friendly Train

Sep 04, 2014 1:22 pm ET

Sept. 4 (Bloomberg) -- Go-Ahead Group Plc, poised to become Britain’s No. 1 rail operator, said it’s working on plans to ease travel on trains to London Gatwick airport, where airline passengers vie for space on crowded commuter services.

Go-Ahead intends to introduce a more flyer-friendly layout on 108 railcars it’s due to order for the Gatwick Express route, featuring more space for bags and better door access, Chief Executive Officer David Brown said today in an interview.

“We need to balance the requirements of Gatwick travelers and their luggage with the fact that this is one of Britain’s busiest commuter lines,” Brown said, adding that the procurement process is under way for the new trains that will replace the route’s existing 25-year-old fleet from 2016.

Britain’s second-busiest airport lost a dedicated rail link with London Victoria train station in 2008 when services were rescheduled to terminate -- and begin -- in Brighton, a commuter town 25 miles further down the line. Refurbished stock that took over the route in 2009 also has less space for bags and narrower door openings than the models it replaced.

As a base for discount specialist EasyJet Plc and leisure carriers including Thomas Cook Group Plc, Monarch Airlines Ltd. and TUI Travel Plc’s Thomson unit, Gatwick, a 30 minute ride from Victoria, attracts a high proportion of tourists traveling with children and more luggage than the average business flyer.

Heathrow Advantage

Unlike the Gatwick service, the 15-minute Heathrow Express rail route from London Paddington station is not part of a franchise and is owned directly by the hub’s operator. Non-stop trains run to Europe’s busiest airport every 15 minutes, with sister-operation Heathrow Connect serving intermediate halts.

While the Stansted Express operation to London Stansted, the biggest base for low-cost market leader Ryanair Holdings Plc, is part of a larger franchise, the airport is at the end of a line that doesn’t pass through any major towns and trains tend to be used predominantly by airline customers.

Go-Ahead will become Britain’s biggest rail operator by passengers carried and most other measures after being chosen in May to run Thameslink, Southern, Great Northern, an expanded franchise serving London and the southeast that will be the U.K.’s biggest with more than 280 million journeys a year.

The company will take over the Thameslink and Great Northern element arms from Sept. 14, integrating the Southern franchise, which it already runs, next July. The expanded business will operate as Govia Thameslink Railway, Brown said.

The company also runs London Midland and Southeastern and is shortlisted for the Northern and TransPennine franchises. Go- Ahead will take the lead on the Northern bid, with partner Keolis, owned by SNCF, heading up the TransPennine pitch.

Go-Ahead’s pretax profit jumped 25 percent to 79.1 million pounds in the year ended June 28, the Newcastle upon Tyne-based company said, prompting the first annual-dividend boost since fiscal 2008 and sending the stock as much as 4.5 percent higher.