Nearly twenty years after direct trains were cancelled, Network Rail is considering resuming a direct link from Tonbridge to Gatwick Airport.

Gatwick-Tonbridge route highlighted on Network Rail map

A research paper by Network Rail looks at options to increase train passenger use along an existing railway link and see if that would reduce road traffic between Kent and the airport.

At the moment there is a shuttle service along the railway that links Tonbridge and Redhill, then people need to swap onto a connecting service to Gatwick Airport. The various options being looked at would see an improvement in the shuttle services, but at Redhill, the trains arrive facing north, so would then reverse so that passenger can continue their trip south down to Gatwick Airport without needing to change trains.

The proposed route’s advantage is that Tonbridge station also acts as a hub for three other lines, feeding traffic from across the wider Kent area.

It’s the removal of swapping trains that is likely to be the main advantage of the revised service, as the report notes that “passengers will choose a ‘one seat ride’ over an equivalent or even slightly faster journey involving one or more transfers, especially for passengers travelling to or from airports who may have baggage making transfers even less convenient”

So even though there’s a reversal of the train at Redhill, the fact that it’s perceived as a direct service without changing trains should make it more appealing to passengers.

To remove the train reversal at Redhill, a new rail link would need to be constructed, and Transport for the South East has proposed that. However, the Network Rail report warns that it would be prohibitively expensive and outside the scope of their report.

Of course, if improving the rail link leads to an increase in passengers, then over time, the passenger numbers could grow to the point that the new rail link becomes economically viable. But that is likely a couple of decades away, if at all.

The other concern, as the report warns, is that the Brighton Main Line is already very busy, so adding more services, even if just a couple of trains per hour, will need very careful planning to fit into the timetable. There are also a number of pinch points along the route that would need careful analysis before any upgrade could be offered to passengers.

The report also weighs the financial impacts, and it notes that initially, some of the better plans are not financially viable, but they could trigger an increase in passenger use that then justifies future upgrades to the service provided.

It’s expected that a Tonbridge to Gatwick via Redhill service could reduce the average journey time from 90 minutes to under 70 minutes. That time saving is usually enough to trigger some migration from car travel to trains.

The report is currently more of a review of the various options that could improve rail links between Gatwick and Kent, and there aren’t any immediate plans to put them into practice.

However, it does lay out viable options, which gives the numerous local lobby groups more tangible facts to support their arguments to improve the rail service.

The Kent ↔ Gatwick Rail Connectivity report is here.


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  1. Ian May says:

    I recall, about a quarter century ago, taking an early morning train from GIllingham (Kent) direct to Gatwick, to meet my wife off an overnight flight from the US. We couldn’t travel back that way though. We took a train to VIctoria and then back out again to Kent.

  2. Jon PENNYCOOK says:

    Looking at a map, the line is mostly straight – one would hope the speed limits could be increased if there was enough money

    • ChrisC says:

      Do you think all train lines are as straight on the ground as they are on a non geographic system map?

    • RobA says:

      ChrisC I would have thought the use of the word ‘map’ was pretty clear? Why assume he is referring to a ‘non geographic system map’

  3. BC says:

    Couldn’t GWR’s Reading to Gatwick Airport service be extended to Tonbridge?

    • David Goddard says:

      then it wouldn’t be going to Gatwick…

    • RJC says:

      It already does exactly what is proposed here it arrives from Reading facing north at Redhill and then goes south to Gatwick.

  4. Phil Strugnell says:

    I remember about 45 years ago buying day old ducking from a supplier near Ashford in Kent and picking them up from Reading station at about 6pm. They had travelled by train from Ashford to Reading via Redhill, and I’m sure it was direct, just one train.Those really were the days!!!!

  5. Lonpfrb says:

    This improved service should help modal shift from cars so improve life and reduce pollution in all the towns and villages between Tonbridge and Gatwick so it has support from the relevant MPs, should they be successful in the forthcoming elections.

    Reduced stress from the Redhill interchange and potential reduced journey times are attractive.

  6. Oliver says:

    Whilst I wholly support a direct train route from Tonbridge to Gatwick, perhaps it would be more simple to ensure that the connecting trains actually connected and you did not have to wait 20+ minutes at Redhill to catch a connecting train to Gatwick.

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