Could Gatwick Airport connect with Kent? Network Rail explores idea of train route

gatwick airport
A Thameslink train at Gatwick Airport station Credit: ITV News

Network Rail is exploring whether or not to reintroduce the Gatwick to Tonbridge train route.

The last service to follow this line operated more than 20 years ago but could resurface, if a long-term vision gets the go-ahead.

At the moment, it can be particularly tricky for people living in Kent to travel to Gatwick Airport with many journeys requiring at least one change.

Under the proposals, services which run from Tonbridge to Redhill, would be extended to the airport.

A train outside Tonbridge station in Kent Credit: ITV News

The report by Network Rail says, "Currently, taking the train between Kent and Gatwick is difficult and unattractive for commuters and leisure travellers alike.

"Consequently, most people in Kent travel to or from Gatwick by car. Comparing Gatwick’s eastern rail connectivity with similar locations to the north, south or west (for instance along the Brighton Main Line or North Downs Line) it is clear Kent’s rail connections are inferior.

"This translates to low existing rail demand; Kent has much lower rail passenger volumes and mode shares for Gatwick trips than equivalent areas and passengers flows in Sussex."

Exploring the potential of more rail services comes as Gatwick sets its sights on increasing its capacity.

Gatwick is the UK’s second busiest airport. Credit: Nick Ansell/PA

It's currently seeking the permission of the Government's planning department to use its emergency runway on a regular basis.

The controversial proposals, objected by environmentalists, could see 75 million passengers a year by late 2030s compared to the 46 million seen in 2019.

While Network Rail says there is a 'sound strategic case' for extending the existing Redhill-Tonbridge shuttle to and from Gatwick once an hour, there are concerns about the financial impact.

The report says, "the financial case is only marginally positive based on 2019 schedules, passenger volumes and revenue.

Tonbridge station in Kent Credit: ITV News

"Other options assessed (for instance half-hourly from Tonbridge or extensions to and from Maidstone or Ashford) would catalyse economic opportunities and help support mode shift ambitions for the region especially as the airport grows, but would not generate enough revenue to cover costs.

"It is important to note that the wider economic, social and environmental benefits of the more ambitious service proposals have not been fully quantified at this stage."

Following on from the initial assessment, a spokesperson for the rail body said,

"Following consultation with local and regional stakeholders and rail industry partners, in March 2024 Network Rail published a strategic study that considered the case for improving rail connectivity between Kent and Gatwick, and the various options available to achieve that.

“While no new service is planned in the short-to-medium term, we will continue to liaise with partners about the options to improve rail connectivity between Gatwick airport and Kent.”

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