Business Travel Tech Talk London, 16 October,
Business Travel Awards Europe, 30 October, JW
3rd Annual Business Travel Intelligence Summit
Vernon Murphy joined BAA in 1966 as a graduate recruit working in airport planning including rail links. Subsequent positions included senior management posts at Heathrow, Aberdeen and Gatwick Airports before being appointed managing director of Scottish Airports in 1988. Vernon is currently managing director of BAA Rail and chairman of Heathrow Express. The role involves continuing to develop the rail business for BAA plc, a key element of BAA's surface access strategy to continue to improve public transport access to its airports.
”Earlier this summer the erstwhile Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) published its latest National Rail Passenger Survey. This showed that continuously over the last two years Gatwick Express passengers have voted Gatwick Express as the top performing train operating company amongst the 24 train franchises which came under the control of the SRA (the two exceptions are Eurostar and Heathrow Express).
The irony of this could not be greater. What other country in the world would achieve this international and domestic recognition for one of its rail services and at the same time propose to assassinate it which the SRA has done in its proposals for rehashing rail services on the Victoria to Brighton Line. This partly explains why Gatwick Airport Ltd reacted so strongly to the proposals to eliminate Gatwick Express but the issues are far wider and more critical than just supporting a well run and popular service.
Ever since Gatwick Airport was first opened in 1936 with its Beehive Terminal it has enjoyed the benefit of an integral airport station and this has been an important feature of the "new" airport at every stage in the development of the South Terminal. Quite simply the road to Central London is at best a tortuous line on a map and it may have been no coincidence that shortly after Gatwick Express was first introduced in 1984 the Department of Transport abandoned the safeguarding of the route to extend the M23 towards Croydon. For the Gatwick passengers who want to travel into Central London nearly 80% use rail and three quarters of them use Gatwick Express. This is despite aggressive price competition from the semi-fast Southern service into Victoria - their Gatwick to Victoria fare - up until May this year it was lower than in 1996.
The reasons behind this success are that the service product of Gatwick Express is specifically designed for air passengers and particularly foreign visitors - frequent service throughout the day with easy access onto the trains (no ticket gates or barriers and the option of payment on board); comfortable seating with adequate space for baggage; on board staff able to give information and enhance security; trains in the station for ease of boarding (no mad dash to the train and trying to load luggage on in competition with commuters) and adequate arrangements at Gatwick station (which is not the case for the other platforms there). And most air passengers are prepared to pay a premium for this (even though around ”4 a ticket is in fact a straight franchise premium which went to the SRA).
But the real issue for Gatwick Airport is the future. The SRA looked at passenger loads in 2002/3 and concluded that the Gatwick Express services in the morning rush hour were nowhere near full. Quite true but what about the effect of 9/11 and the then recent transfer of many BA long haul services to Heathrow? With Gatwick investing heavily in airport facilities to handle 42m passengers by 2014 (not to mention the good news that the US market is beginning to grow again and new long haul operators are starting up) how would rail services cope by then? Answer ” this was outside of the period of their review. So apparently also was the Government's White Paper on the Future of Aviation and the role Gatwick should be playing in handling growth of air traffic in the South East. Such is the success of joined up thinking, integrated transport strategy et al.
We do understand that the SRA's proposals were based on eliminating some problems on the operation of the Brighton Line - reliability is a problem and for half an hour a day there are overcrowding problems on the longer distance commuter services - so we did make a number of suggestions to help overcome these - perhaps too many ideas! In the end it turns out that the main reliability problem is at Haywards Heath and the main overcrowding problems are on ThamesLink and the Inner Suburban services into Victoria. In my view these are not acceptable reasons to eliminate Gatwick Express.
But of even more importance is that it is Gatwick's airlines who are investing hundreds of millions of pounds in new aircraft, who are taking the risks in introducing new international routes into London which the Government recognises are critical to the economic prosperity of our nation. Their support on this issue has been and will be crucial. They recognise that Gatwick Express is a key part of the overall journey into Central London especially for foreign visitors and business travellers”.
Vernon Murphy BAA Rail