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  • [an error occurred while processing this directive]
    Gatwick Express

    Author: Nick Lawford, UK


    In 1997 Gatwick Express announced new trains for its Victoria to Gatwick Airport service. Due mid-1999, the push-pull operation will have been in force for fifteen years operating every 15 minutes commencing 1984. Apart from trouble at start-up, 'Gatwick Express' has attracted little attention. Now seems an appropriate time to review these trains.

    Gatwick Airport is often recorded in rail orientated publications as mainly dealing with charter flights - more correctly known as Inclusive Tour or IT. IT passengers usually travel to the extremes of sun or snow on package tours booked through travel agents and tour operators. IT is big business but Gatwick is London's second airport and handles more scheduled traffic than IT. The lines of North American MD11s, Tristars, DC10s and 767s on the stands each morning are proof. These aircraft carry up to 400 people and Delta, NorthWest, Canadian, Continental and so on are not in the business of flying empty seats.

    When 'Railair' started critics queried dedicating over 1000 train seats per hour. But aircraft of these types arrive and depart any hour of the day. A corresponding high number of train seats must be provided to move the airlines' customers and baggage. Something better than 4Vep with additional luggage racks had to be provided. Air passengers travelling economy may have been seated 2+5+2 in flight, but 2+3 standard class of a 4Veg was unlikely to encourage overseas visitors to consider further rail travel within the UK.

    The solution was in full SR tradition. Rebuild, reform, refurbish and repaint existing resources. Unusual in this case - passenger accommodation was drawn from outside the Southern and involved locomotives. The resulting trains were the last significant new-from-old trains before fragmentation of the corporate railway. The original 'Railair' concept also provided the first major example of dedicating a small train pool train to a specific traffic flow. There is little doubt it was successful. Officially launched in May 1984, apart from a technical problem arising in the first few months, and one accident in 1985, it has remained stable in operation. Into privatisation, Gatwick Express is the only train operator to receive no government subsidy.

    'Railair' plans were first revealed mid-1981 as dedicated push-pull trains formed EDL-'4set'-'4set'-MLV. Eighteen four car trailer sets converted from locomotive hauled coaches and nine motor vans were announced. Seven trains required for the basic Victoria-Gatwick service leaving four '4set' and two vans spare. Each '4set' would be FO-3SO conversions from air conditioned vehicles. The Mk.2 coaches were cascaded by introduction of HSTs (IC125) on Midland main line from St.Pancras to Sheffield. Seven electro-diesels for the basic service were easily found. From 1981 up to six EDLs had been stored and there was no internal SR cascade created by removing these from existing work.

    'Railair' vehicles started to appear in 1983. When the number series was published, it was clear changes had been made to the original plan. Carriage number series was FO 72500-72509, SO 72600-72647 and 72700-72718. Nineteen '3set' formed SO-SO-SO classified 488/2, and ten '2set' class 488/3 FO-SO. The first coach, 76200 with no regional 'S' prefix, arrived on the SR on 22nd July 1983. Test running commenced 1st August between Strawberry Hill and Basingstoke formed EDL-3398-72600-DB975032. Three days later, the same train was used for filming purposes between Stewarts Lane and Gatwick Airport.

    By the autumn, sufficient vehicles had been received from Derby Litchurch Lane works to make up all SO 8301 (72600-72700-72601). No converted FO or GLV were available yet. FO 3398 and ex-Class 501 vehicle DB975032, departmental EMUs were used in lieu. On 7th November a Strawberry Hill to Waterloo test train was formed 975032-053-052-6044-8301-3398-EDL. On 18th November, an exhibition for officials used 73133-8301-'Mars'. It had been intended to use an MLV but 'Mars' was used to facilitate full operation with the EDL. In connection with a travel exhibition at Kensington Olympia, 33025-8301 were displayed from November 30th to 2nd December, and joint British Rail and British Airports Authority publicity used the name 'Gatwick Express' for the first time publicly.

    The first luggage van, GLV unit 9101 coach 68500, was delivered on 6th January 1984. On 6th February 1984 all 8201-8210, 8301-8319 and 9101-9110 were shown allocated to Stewarts Lane. The first multiple units to be allocated there although not all had been delivered by that date. For example, the position during that month was: commissioned by 2nd were 8201 8202 8301 8304 8305 8307 9101 9102; 16th 8306; 23rd: 8308. GLV 9103 and 9104 followed on 1st and 8th March. Departmental units 052 and 053 were used as tractors tripping cars between Eastleigh works, after delivery from Derby, and Strawberry Hill for commissioning. 8301-8319 were formed TSOH-TSO-TSOH using cars numbered 726xx-727xx-726xx and 8201-8219 TFOH-TSOH using cars numbered 725xx-726xx. The H suffix on the 725xx and 726xx series vehicles denotes handbrake.

    Handbrakes are not normally found on UK passenger vehicles not fitted with either driving cabs or dedicated guards areas. Only the outer ends of each coach retained the drop-head buck-eye couplers and buffers. Inner ends were fitted with solid bar couplings similar to those found on intermediate vehicles of freightliner container wagons. On locomotive hauled air conditioned stock, all power for heating, lighting and auxiliary is provided at 1000 V from the locomotive. For their new role, the existing ETH connections are fed from the 750 V DC traction current. In normal service supply is from the GLV not EDL. Each trailer is fitted with its own motor alternator with three outputs - 415 V three phase AC for air conditioning and lighting, 240 V single phase AC for toilet auxiliaries and saloon vacuum cleaning points, and 24 V DC for control and battery charging.

    Not being fitted with driving cabs, no yellow warning ends were necessary. Coach ends were therefore black. Livery was the then new style applied to APT subsequently adopted by the InterCity sector. Dark grey window surrounds with light grey bodysides relieved by narrow bright red band below the windows. Looking at the coach sides, the left hand end carried the wording 'Railair' Link' and the right hand end 'Victoria - Gatwick' below the windows in black BR corporate style lettering. Several detailed variations of application, style, lettering and shade have been carried through to 1999 but it may still be traced back to 1984.

    Mk.2 coaches were built new at Derby Litchurch Lane carriage works 1973/1974. Contemporary SR deliveries were still to Mk.1 design: York works delivered 4Rep motor coaches for 3012-3015 around the same time. Mk.2 second class coach shells were fitted with eight window bays, first class with seven. Internally, all second class tables were removed, and layout altered to increase luggage space at the expense of eight seats. In locomotive hauled form, the coaches had 64 seats in eight 8 seat bays of face to face 2+2 with a mid coach partition. The revised 56 seat layout of each car consisted of luggage rack, two bays, rack, bay, rack, half-bay, rack, mid-coach partition, rack, half-bay, rack, bay, rack, two bays, rack. The revised 'Railair' second class layout moved the seating slightly out of alignment with the windows. Toilets at the outer ends of each TSOH were replaced by additional luggage racking together with the handbrakes fitted in small cupboards. Mk.2f loose seat covers of blue-brown InterCity pattern were used. Floor foot pressure pads were fitted activating the vestibule sliding door bringing the coaches into line with Mk.3 practice. Other than removal of one end single seat for wheelchair space, the seven bay 2+1 face to face arrangement in the first class remained including tables. More drastic conversions applied to the luggage vans which were designated only as Class 489, and not Gatwick Luggage Van. Nevertheless, the letters GLV were painted on the unit ends and the name remains in common use. GLVs were conversions from BR Mk.1 style 2Hap driving motor coaches and apart from the driving cabs were a virtual rebuild above underframe level. Motor coaches from 2Hap 1957 Phase 1 units 6071/76/83 entered Eastleigh works for conversion in Spring 1983 but the first GLV was not released for eight months. A guards compartment and corridor connection was provided at the non-driving end. New body sides were fitted, with three pairs of slam doors evenly spaced on each side in similar style to MLV. Bodyside plating was extended downwards slightly at solebar level - partly covering the underframe and match the Mk 2 style curved solebars.

    GLVs were painted to match the passenger coaches but with the essential full yellow ends extending as far as the drivers cab door. Black BR double arrow logos were carried on the yellow area. On first conversion, GLV were not fitted with speedometers although these were quickly fitted at an early date, maximum speed remained unchanged at 90 mph. For running in normal service operation, not only does the GLV contribute 500 traction horsepower to the train from its Mk.4 motor bogie, but it is the GLV which provides the electric train supply for heating, lighting and auxiliaries. The unmotored Mk.4 bogie was fitted with additional pick-up shoes to reduce incidents of gapping but there is no traction supply connection between GLV and EDL.

    Before entering regular traffic two test diagrams including passenger trains were introduced from Victoria and London Bridge. Destinations included Brighton, Eastbourne and West Worthing operating Mondays to Fridays only and only as and when required by the commercial and operating departments. Both diagrams were introduced on 23rd January 1984, starting and finishing empty stock to and from Stewarts Lane although neither commenced immediately. One diagram began working 6th February and covered:

    07:25 Victoria - Brighton (08:35)
    08:59 Brighton - Victoria (10:10)
    10:40 Victoria - Gatwick Airport (11:15)
    11:20 MX ECS or 11:16 MO passenger Gatwick Airport - Brighton (11:51)
    12:18 ECS Brighton - Haywards Heath (12:33)
    12:45 Haywards Heath - Brighton (13:08)
    13:59 MX ECS or 13:59 MO passenger Brighton - Gatwick Airport (14:31)
    14:33 ECS Gatwick Airport - Victoria (15:08)
    15:28 Victoria - Eastbourne (17:26)
    18:38 Eastbourne - Victoria (20:24).

    This was amended with the first Brighton trip being diverted to Lewes returning 08:39 Lewes - Victoria (09:50) allowing more time for cleaning. The second diagram commenced one week later on 13th February:

    09:36 Brighton - London Bridge (10:50)
    11:00 London Bridge - Gatwick Airport (11:34)
    11:45 Gatwick Airport -London Bridge (12:18)
    12:30 London Bridge - Haywards Heath (13:22)
    13:50 Haywards Heath - London Bridge (14:39)
    14:55 London Bridge - Brighton (16:01)
    16:22 ECS Brighton - Preston Park - West Worthing (16:45)
    17:50 ECS West Worthing- Hove (18:05)
    18:18 Hove - London Bridge (19:21)
    19:30 London Bridge - Gatwick Airport (20:06).

    It had been suggested that one rake would be deployed on the Waterloo to Weymouth Quay Channel Island Boat Train workings through the summer of 1982 but this did not occur. More adventurous was a diesel hauled promotional tour taking some of the new trains far off SR metals. Between 12th and 15th March, 33113 took 8306 and 8201, together with hauled Mk.1 BCK 21273 as follows: 12th Stewarts Lane - Rugby - Wrexham - Chester; 13th Chester - Manchester; 14th Manchester - Sheffield - Newcastle; 15th Newcastle - Leeds - Bedford - Stewarts Lane. Various other tests were also still being carried out by the CM&EE during the same period. Between 30th January and 1st February a complete correctly formed train was tested between Woking and Basingstoke. On the night of 27/28th February a similar complete train was tested between Victoria and Gatwick at 23:00 00:30 and 03:00. Despite the empty train, clear pathways and minimal demands on the traction supply by other services, the first down journey still took 34 minutes.

    One significant delay was crossing conductor rail gaps ascending Grosvenor bank - the climb being slow enough to not clear track circuits in time to clear signals for following services. Further gap induced problems were to arise in the Battersea area after the full service started. The official press launch took place on 10th May. 73123 worked 11:40 Victoria - Gatwick special achieving a 28.5 minute run and complete eight car set formed 8207-8210-8307-9103. This train was formed in reverse - EDL at the London end - to facilitate a naming ceremony where 73123 was officially adorned 'Gatwick Express'. 73123 also carried a new livery retaining the contemporary Class 73 style of extended yellow ends but with the BR corporate blue bodysides replaced by colours to match the passenger stock.

    14th May was the first day of full services. The seven EDL diagrams were covered by 73111 73119 73122 73123 73131 73133 and 73142. 73123 carried 'opening express' headboards at each end of its train. Each train carried yellow numbered marker discs. The first service was 05:30 Victoria-Gatwick thence at fifteen minute intervals through the day at xx:00 xx:15 xx:30 xx:35 minutes past each hour. Up trains departed Gatwick Airport at xx:05 xx:20 xx:35 xx:50 until 00:05. At start up of the service, trains formed 73-8300-8300-8200-9100, GLV at the Victoria end, EDL at the Gatwick end, but after four weeks formation of the passenger accommodation were altered to 8300-8200-8300. Commencing 11th June, this was to position to first class accommodation adjacent to the escalators at Gatwick Airport station.

    Generally nine car sets operated through summer period, around xmas and around Easter, otherwise five car sets with 8200-8300. Not all sets had been commissioned by service start-up. On 7th June, all except 8319 were available - expected from Derby on 9th July but in fact not commissioned and available for traffic until 23rd August. Several sets entered service mis-formed according to strict numerical sequences of the trailer vehicles. Presumably this arose as individual cars became available being pressed into units as soon as ready. No attempt seems to have been made to restore the correct sequences. At least 8205-8210 and 8302-8306 were all mis-formed right from commissioning date.

    On 5th August 1984 73142 suffered a fire at Battersea Park while heading 07:00 Victoria - Gatwick. 73142 was badly damaged. This was the third such incident at the same spot and instructions were issued for all trains to be worked through the area on diesel power. At around 11:30, train drivers refused to work the trains on safety grounds. All 'Railair' stock was taken out of service and various multiple units substituted. By 12th August some modifications were carried out and EDL operated 'Railair' stock started to re-appear but were again taken out of traffic five days later. EMU only were in use on 6th and 7th and during the following period the obvious Cep Cig and Vep substitutes were used, along with odd 8Cap, 4Hap, 8Big and 4Big-4Bep.

    The prime cause was a voltage difference in adjacent conductor rails at gaps in the Battersea Park area causing arcing within the loco. Technical modifications carried out included fitting arc flashguards to the bogies, and alterations to the control equipment by increasing the delay in restoring current to the motors after a break is encountered. Before these alterations, on a normal EDL reaching a gap, power is cut off with the control system notching back one notch per second until current is regained. On a modified machine, a three second delay is incorporated, and the locomotive must have notched back at least to full series before current is again passed to the motors. If all weak field and parallel notches have to be passed at one notch per second, a gapped EDL fitted with the modified no-volt relay will not have power restored to its traction motors for 10 seconds.

    In addition to the Battersea Park area, EDLs on 'Railair' workings encounter similar gap situations at Purley Oaks, Stoats Nest and three times in the Coulsdon area. It was only after the trains were reduced from eight to five coaches on 1st October 1984 that these initial modifications allowed a return to a thirty minute schedule between Victoria and Gatwick Airport. Later modifications were carried out, based on tests with 73134, both to reduce the three second delay and to cut-in while still at parallel.

    After the Battersea Park incident, 73123 was the first EDL to receive flashguards and started working with a full eight car train on 12th August. However, two other five car trains both powered by two EDLs had been used since 8th - two locomotives being provided for diesel operation. 73105/73123, 73109/73138, 73116/73113 and 73106/73107 were all noted working on 13th August. More EDLs quickly received modifications but by 17th August the flashguard brackets were found to be insufficiently strong. The service reverted to all EMU again. 22nd August and sufficient modified EDL were available to allow normal eight car trains with single locomotives in time for the busy period around the August Bank Holiday weekend. By late 1984 at least 73102/03/05/07/09/10/11/12/13/14/16/17/21/22/23/25/29/30/33/35/38 had received modifications.

    Battersea Park was the scene of another event concerning 'Railair' stock the following year - this time an accident resulting in many injuries. On 31st May 1985 09:20 Gatwick Airport - Victoria (9101-8301-8203-8313-73117) ran into the rear of the 08:51 East Grinstead - Victoria (DEMUs 1113-1309) on the London side of Battersea Park station. The 'Railair' service had passed a red signal and collided with the diesel train just as it was itself pulling away from a signal check. Although many injuries were sustained by traincrews and passengers, most were slight. GLV 9101 was damaged in the impact while coach 72600 of unit 8301 distorted badly at one end. 8301 was withdrawn - 72600 cut up at Stewarts Lane with the other two coaches 72601 and 72700 stored, then moved to Ilford at the end of 1987 before disposal. (Both DEMU motor coaches were damaged with eventually to disbanded 6B 1037 donating its motor coaches to 1309 and 1113.)

    Through 1985 and 1986, the technical alterations were applied to all Class 73/1. At this stage fleet dedication had not commenced and any locomotive was assumed to be available for 'Railair' work. 73142 was repaired at Slade Green, and released, modified, in January 1985. By June 1986, thirty nine 73/1 had received modified no-volt relays and flashguards, together with remote sanding gear. During the same period, nineteen 73/1s also received improved sandboxes and sandpipes. Thirteen 73/1s were also equipped for DOO - although of course 'Railair' trains could not be driver only operated in passenger service as such trains require full control of power operated doors. It should be noted that livery was not an indication of a technically modified loco. At least 73120/36/37 received InterCity livery before flashguards and altered no-volt relays.

    Observations by local railway observers show that there seemed to be no deliberate use of InterCity liveried locos. It is recorded that during the first part of 1986 no more than four InterCity liveried machines had appeared working on any one days despite there being 10-12 so painted from early in the year. 30th April is recorded as the first day when five appeared - 73103/23/25/35/37. Twelve months later, May 1987, there were twenty seven appropriately liveried 73/1s available but normally still only five or six were utilised. Contemporary reports confirm no 73/0s have appeared on 'Railair's. (Class 73/0 were not fitted with the no-volt relay and flashguard alterations. 73/0 were limited to 80 mph are not suitable for 'Railair' workings. No substantiated reports of 73/0 on these workings are known.)

    Responsibility for the Victoria - Gatwick 'Railair' express workings was transferred to InterCity in May 1985, just after one year of successful operation. InterCity retained control of the route until October 1993, first grouping it into its Anglia & Gatwick sub-sector in 1988, before creating a stand alone shadow franchise prior to privatisation. One of the first rumours to arise from the 1985 transfer to InterCity sector concerned locomotive names. 73102 had been named 'Airtour Suisse' at Gatwick Airport on 23rd April 1985 - the name being in keeping with the business of the route. But when it was suggested 125 years of Stewarts Lane traction depot the same year be marked by the naming of a 73, a 73/0 was proposed as it was not a machine which could offend the new operators. The name 'Gatwick Express' had already been carried for three years by 73123: this locomotive being a popular choice for depot Open Days visiting Laira and Old Oak Common on 7th and 15th September 1985. The name 'Stewarts Lane 125' was given to the appropriately numbered 73125 at the Open Day held there on 22nd September.

    The livery applied to 73123 in May 1984 remained unique with 73102 first appearing in 'standard' InterCity livery in April 1985 with black roof except over cabs which were yellow. The dark grey band extended along the bodyside and around the cab windows with yellow remaining beneath cab windows itself extended round sides to forward of the cab door; the large double arrow was retained. During 1987, the bodyside words 'Railair Link' and 'Gatwick-Victoria' were replaced by 'Gatwick Express' and InterCity'. In May 1988 a revised livery appeared on 73128 with entire cabs ends plain yellow and loss of the dark grey around windows, full length bodyside colours, land orange cantrail band, minimal size double arrow symbol, and miniature numbers.

    Another rumour to surface was that InterCity required only ten locomotives to operate the service and was not prepared to contribute to the upkeep of the entire class. Moreover, it was even suggested that any dedicated locomotives would have their diesel engines removed. Common sense prevailed and the diesel engines were retained although a dedicated pool of twelve EDLs was created in early 1988. Commencing overnight 13th/14th February, a new sub-class, IVGA pool, 73/2 was created by simple re-numbering of 73102/13/16/20/21/22/23/24/25/27/27/42 to 73212-73201 i.e. the re-numberings were carried out in reverse order. No reason is known for reversing the number sequence. Only 73/2s were to carry the third InterCity livery variant (from 1990) of dark grey cab wrap arounds, larger numbers, and the swallow symbol.

    Although the daily service requirement is for seven trains requiring seven 73/2s, dedicated traction pools must be self sufficient. In grossly over simplified terms, Gatwick Express requires a minimum of three spare 73/2s. One is effectively on standby in case of an in-service train failure, one is typically on a minor examination at the depot, while the third may be undergoing a major exam or in works for classified repair. In addition, responsibility for supplying traction to SR domestic workings by VSOE was also IVGA 73/2 pool and two locomotives were required to cover these. 73207 and 73209 were generally deployed on VSOE workings - there being a preference to use un-named locos. In fact there was no immediate restriction of either 73/2 locomotives to Gatwick Express workings only, or to the use of 73/1s on Gatwick Expresses. 1988 was a period when EDLs were in high demand for the Bournemouth line during the 4Rep rundown phase, and 73/2s were regular performers alongside and in multiple with 73/1s. 73/2s would also appear on the Clapham Junction - Kensington Olympia service in 1989.

    Through 1987 minor interior modifications were carried out in the passenger accommodation. In the standard class, seat covers were replaced by the new standard InterCity red brushed moquette. From June, tables were fitted, actually a re-fitting as the tables were removed when the coaches were transferred to the SR. First class accommodation received new carpets, new curtains and new table tops. Toilets received new internal fittings. Later, around late 1987 early 1988, seating in the second class cars was reduced from 56 to 48 in order to provide increased luggage accommodation.

    Another rumour around this time was the suggestion that Gatwick Express would be operated throughout the year as six car trains of three two car sets. It was felt that an eight car train provided too many seats while a five car train had not enough. Presumably this would have been achieved by removal of the middle car from the three car sets. This particular rumour seemed at odds with air traffic at Gatwick - in March 1988 the North Terminal was formally opened substantially increasing stand capacity. (North Terminal has since been more or less dedicated to British Airways increasing use of Gatwick. North Terminal is the so-called 'hub without the hub-bub' once featured in a BA advertising campaign.)

    Special workings by Gatwick Express stock have never been too common. There are numerous operational and technical reasons making special traffic use difficult. First, there is no guards accommodation on the passenger cars - demanding the use of either a GLV or a conventional locomotive hauled brake vehicle. If a GLV is in the train, the stock is limited to third rail electrified or third rail cleared diversionary routes otherwise the collector shoes are foul of loading gauge. If a GLV is not used, only Class 33s could work the train off electrified routes since an EDL may not provide train auxiliary power while running on diesel engines. Even staying within the SR electrified area, there were routes where Mk.2 stock infringes the kinematic envelope - effectively the stock is simply out of gauge.

    Occasionally 'Gatwick Express' stock has been deployed on special work such as a Southern Electric Group railtour operated in 1988. On Saturday 23rd January 1988, the author was the SEG train manager for the "Coastway Express". Why this tour used this stock has long been forgotten. It was really just a case of how to combine one idea for a traction / stock tour a rare track trip. The "Coastway Express" proved to be a supreme example of just what can go wrong with the best laid plans. Waterloo, Reading, Eastleigh depot loop, Bedenham, Hove, Ardingly, Seaford, Battle, and return to Waterloo by circuituitous route. Eastleigh depot loop, Bedenham and Ardingly for the track bashers, Reading to Basingstoke by EDL on diesel then the first EDL up the 1066 Route for the traction bashers. A second class only, Gatwick Express set was requested - EDL-six-GLV. Ardingly was knocked out of the route due to engineering works but still the tour was a sell out. The tickets were sent out.

    Then the problems started. First some-one realised that the number of seats in second class had been reduced from 56 to 48 per coach. BR charging and SEG ticketing had been based on six coaches at 336 seats. Now the train had 48 seats less. Another three set was provided. This snowballed: one EDL now insufficient to maintain timings - not just over the diesel section but everywhere. Two EDL needed: total conductor rail index 18. Cut out the GLV and use as driving trailer only. ETH: now provided from EDL not GLV with corresponding special instruction to cover this. Even then, the traction current draw would exceed the Seaford branch capacity so further special instructions were issued for diesel operation beyond Newhaven. After this had been resolved, the SED pointed out, with just two days to go, that Mk.2 rolling stock was prohibited north of Bo-Peep Junction. 1Z20 would be diverted via Rye incurring yet more diesel operation.

    In fact all went well on the day despite odd grumbles from some customers. There was very little SEG could do about it as tickets had already been posted out. 73116+73121 headed out of Waterloo on 08:05 Waterloo-Seaford with GLV 68500 trailing behind three three sets. From the authors' personal point of view, being more interested in traction than track, getting to Seaford with EDL on diesel followed by the two EDLs propelling on diesel up the grade through Ore tunnel and over Romney Marsh were the highlights - neither of which were planned. 13:55 Seaford-Waterloo also gapped itself approaching Waterloo demanding one further ignition of the diesel engines for a final move into the terminus.

    Possibly one of the most outrageous modern traction railtours of all time also took place in 1988. London Underground had taken delivery of five new battery electric locomotives for works trains. L63 to L67 batch were fitted with buck-eye couplings so the suggestion was for these locos to operate a railtour over parts of the District and Circle Lines using BR locomotive hauled stock. On 2nd October 1988, L65 and L67 were able to take Gatwick Express sets 8302-8205 through the District Line platforms at Victoria instead of the more normal surface level platforms. Route of the morning "Battery Tube Rover" was Wimbledon, Kingston, Richmond, Farringdon, Baker Street, Earls Court, Wimbledon followed by a similar but not identical itinerary in the afternoon. L65 and L67 were formed top and tail on the train and operated on battery power over the BR sections of the route.

    Other special workings have been few and far between. One was of 73134-eight-9105 on a Victoria - Tonbridge - Dover Western Dock return trip in December 1988. On 1st December 1990, 'Gonad Productions' (really!) used 73212-8309-8312-9104 on 06:00 Potters Bar - Folkestone Harbour and 22:15 return charter. Route was via Camden Road, Kew East, Catford and Sevenoaks. Interestingly, 73203 was also in Kent the same day - working a 12:54 Victoria - Dover Priory and return charter for Trans Manche Link, the channel tunnel contractors.

    Gatwick Express services are subject to occasional disruption - planned and unplanned. Following the Copyhold Junction accident on 6th November 1985, 'Railair' services were extended from Gatwick Airport to Three Bridges, and made additional calls at Clapham Junction and East Croydon, in order to relieve other limited services; similar arrangements applied for Balcombe derailment. Following the collision between Purley and Purley Oaks, blocking Gatwick Express normal route into London, a special service was initiated. Running at half hourly intervals on the afternoon of 4th March 1989, and all day Sunday 5th March, route was Victoria. Dorking, Horsham reverse, Gatwick Airport. Following the Clapham cutting accident, one Gatwick Express set found itself deployed on the special shuttle service in force between Victoria and Wimbledon via Clapham Junction and Streatham Junction on 12th December 1988.

    Heavy overnight snow 5th/6th February 1986 shut Gatwick Airport to all air traffic, with 'Railair's making many intermediate additional stops on 6th to cover for Brighton line rail services also severely disrupted by snow. Later in the year, the first Network Day was held on 21st August, and several 'Railair's were cancelled due to train crews needed for extra Brighton line services. Before such co-operation between operators was effectively ended by sectorisation, 'Railair' stock could occasionally find use on suburban workings - particularly on late evening services. One recorded example is 10th February 1985 22:02 Victoria - West Croydon and 23:02 return. On 20th October 1986 21:40 Victoria - Newhaven boat train was covered by using the stock off 21:30 Victoria - Gatwick. On 14th February 1985, 17:36 Victoria - Brighton was covered by a 'Railair' set as was 14:50 Victoria - Eastbourne on 4th April 1986.

    1988 was a period of intensive use of Class 73s on Bournemouth line passenger work and 73/2s were used as well as 73/1s. Before the May 1988 timetable, 73/1s were common but after this date only 73/2s were used on Gatwick Expresses leading to them being less available for other work. 73/2s also reached Poole on extension of the third rail to that point in 1988 usually in multiple with a 73/1 on the Waterloo-Poole semi-fast services. The summer 1989 timetable saw the Clapham Junction - Kensington Olympia shuttle service operated by EDL/4TC/EDL and again 73/2s strayed on to these workings with at least 73205 working with 73112 on Tuesday 17 the October 1989.

    Other random duties included 24th March 1990 73210 taking over a Birmingham to Norwood Junction (for Crystal Palace) footex and 7th April 1990 73208 on a similar Manchester - New Cross Gate (for Millwall) train. From 1989 through to 1994 One 73/2 was effectively removed from the Gatwick Express pool and deployed on the test set for Channel tunnel train third rail current collection trials. With former 4TC set 8007 and ex-Class 33 33115, 73205 provided 100 mph traction for the test trips. 73205 carried a special interface connection box at one end and operated variously between Stewarts Lane, Eastleigh and Folkestone East. 73135, only two months previously painted into engineers departmental grey livery, was transferred into the pool to cover for 73205. 73135 was subsequently renumbered 73235 in 1991.

    Weekends engineering operations cause diversions from the booked route with alternative routes between East Croydon and Victoria, and/or via Redhill vice Quarry. (Certain services operate booked via Redhill for purposes of retaining crew diversionary route knowledge). During the 1980s it was often practice on Saturdays to reduce the service to half hourly on winter Saturdays, the airports lowest traffic time, due to engineering although not on Sundays. Clapham Junction stops were also common on Sunday mornings when suburban services were disrupted. Extended running times on Sundays could sometimes led to the use of eight rather than seven sets in passenger service. It was not really necessary to utilise eight trains from the point of view of simply maintaining times but part of the service concept is to ensure that a train is always available in the platforms at both ends.

    For example, this occurred on 1st January 1990 with 73201/02/06/08/09/10/11/12 powering the eight trains in service. On Sunday 14th October 1990 seven trains - 73201/06/07/08/09/10/11 - were in use on the regular diagrams. Certain services every hour were being diverted via Redhill while all trains were at severely restricted speed through East Croydon. Diesel engines are often started on a slowed Gatwick Express through the Selhurst and Croydon areas as a precaution. Today 73208 on 10:45 ex-Victoria ran on diesel between signals T95 and T135; 13:00 ex- Victoria with 73210 also ran under diesel from T121 to T129. Later, 14:05 Gatwick-Victoria failed completely at Stoats Nest Junction with neither 73201 nor 68503 able to move the train. The 14:20 Gatwick-Victoria was brought up behind to propel the stranded service - 73211 getting the combined trains under way on diesel power before changing over to third rail. At Victoria the complete train was temporarily taken out of service before 73211s set returned to take up 73201s diagram and 73135 taking up 73211s turn.

    1990 saw the InterCity sector adopt its own identity with its swallow symbol and further revised livery. 73202 and 73135 emerged in April 1990 with light grey bodysides and dark grey roof, yellow warning panel below windows not wrapping around sides with the italicised silver INTERCITY name and swallow symbol on bodyside. GLVs were given black surrounds on the cab ends with the black falling to below the windows, and no yellow wrapping round the bodysides. 9101/3/6/9 were the first to appear this way. The passenger stock was given revised interiors during overhauls carried out at Derby Litchurch Lane from 1991 with 8307 8312 and 8206 first in June followed by 8302 8303 and 8205. The second class seats with separate detachable headrests were replaced by the new type adopted for Mk.2e/f and Mk.3 stock with single piece backs and red herringbone pattern moquette. First class seat were refurbished with grey covers as introduced on Mk.4 stock.

    Mid-1993 found Gatwick Express, now separated from its former Anglia partner, as the first 'shadow franchise'. As such, Gatwick Express was a BR train operating unit (TOU) running in the way in which it would be sold of as a private train operating company (TOC). This step arrived with another livery variant applied to locomotive and stock from end of 1992. The red and white stripes below the wide dark grey band were replaced with a maroon or burgundy stripe with a thin white line. The coaches retained the InterCity name at first but the locomotives carried a new flag emblem in place of the swallow symbol and new style 'Gatwick Express' wording. In April 1994, ownership of the rolling stock passed to Porterbrook for lease to the TOC. 73206/07/10/12, 8203/4/6, 8306/9/15 and 9102/10 seem to have been the first vehicles in this 'claret' variation. By September 1994, only 8303 8310 and 9103 had yet to receive this version. Technical changes were the progressive removal on the unused vacuum train braking from the 73/2s and the fitting of secondary door locking to the coaches. 73112 was transferred into the IVGA pool mid-1994 and subsequently numbered 73213.

    The Gatwick Express TOC was one of the first groups to be franchised along with South West Trains and Great Western. National Express, the road coach operator, acquired the franchise and on 29 April 1996 73212-8307-8207-73205 were displayed at a press launch at St.Pancras. A major franchise commitment, other than the purchase of new trains, was to commence all night services. From June 1997, hourly Gatwick Express services were introduced between 01:30 and 04:30 outside of the previous service pattern. The 1997/1998 timetable was as follows : 05:00 05:15 05:30 05:45 and at every xx:00 xx:15 xx:30 xx:45 until 23:45 then 00:01 00:30 01:30 02:30 03:30 04:30 Victoria-Gatwick; 05:20 05:50 06:05 06:20 and every xx:05 xx:20 xx:35 xx:50 until 00:50 then 01:35 02:35 03:35 04:35.

    The traditional Christmas day total UK rail system shutdown was broken by Gatwick Express on xmas day 1996 when a half hourly service was operated 06:00 to 18:00. Services had been run on boxing days in years even though most of the rest of the system remained closed. However, before the establishment of Gatwick Express as a separate entity, such trains were operated by Class 455 and not 73+Gat stock. Apparently this was to remove the need to provide platform staff to supervise door closing. (In 1996 Class 455s were also to find use on non-stop Gatwick Airport services from Waterloo: immediately after the disastrous Channel Tunnel fire on 18 November 1996, special non-stop trains worked from Waterloo International conveying passengers diverted to air travel.)

    The GEx franchise took over 14 locomotives, 74 coaches and 10 luggage vans - a total of 94 vehicles. In April 1997 64 coaches - in eight 8-car trains were ordered from Alstom. The first of the new trains was delivered in January 1999 and fleet service was expected sometime around August 1999. Secondary door locking was fitted through the early 1990s in line with all InterCity Mk.2 and Mk.3 stock elsewhere. Although EWS closed Stewarts Lane as a locomotive maintenance depot in 1998, Gatwick Express 73/2s remain based at the multiple unit shed. Remaining Class 73 overhauls are carried out at Eastleigh. Eastleigh works was responsible for such overhauls until May 1990 when the work was transferred to Selhurst Level 5 depot returning to Eastleigh in March 1993. Wheel turning is contracted to the North Pole depot of Eurostar.

    Through the summer of 1998, and on through 1999 and 2000, several instances of trains with a 73/2 at each end were reported due to various defects with GLV driving and traction equipment. Occasional use of GEx resources on other workings still does take place. On 13th March 1997 a major electrical failure at Waterloo caused a Gatwick Express set to be deployed on Victoria - Wimbledon emergency shuttle services. In February 1999, one 73/2 was loaned to South West Trains to cover for its standby locomotive 73109 (normally located at Woking) while that also received an overhaul. (EWS is also running down fleet operation of 73/1 during 1999)

    The present operation of Gat stock is mainly of five coach trains and formed with the first class coach, now designated 'club class' formed next to the GLV. Conspicuous 'baggage' wording started to appear on the GLVs from 1998 onwards in an attempt to encourage passengers to use this facility. Also in 1998, the US based Continental Airlines sponsored advertising livery of mid-blue below the GEx claret stripe was applied to 8203/04/07/08 and 8304/05/14/19 carrying various slogans such as "19 flights a Day to the USA", "9 flights Daily to New York", "Work Hard Fly Right", "London to Houston Twice Daily" and "Serving Over 190 Cities Worldwide". As the Continental livery is effectively runs as four five car trains, there is a livery mis-match with eight car trains.

    GEx was committed to have all its new trains in service by 15 August 1999. A traditional cascade by Network SouthEast deployed the former 'Railairs' on Waterloo-Portsmouth. Connex South Central appear to be considering some for Victoria-Brighton, and now Anglia is looking at Waterloo-Southampton. Rumours suggest the Health & Safety Executive or also not happy about Mk.2 stock in the long term.

    (Since this article was written in Spring 1999 the GEx Class 460 fleet has yet to enter fleet service. One single unit diagram was in daytime traffic October and November covering just one diagram. This had followed one diagram on the all night trains where it was determined a failure would be less disruptive. Already the Gatwick Express company has stored some 73s and coaches but any future use is uncertain amid a lot of unconfirmed rumours. The TOC itself is also rumoured to be linking up with the Heathrow Express concern which uses a very different 25 kV emu fleet but on a similar 15 minute interval service.)


    [ last updated 31st Dec 2003 ]