The team at Gatwick Express is marking 35 years of operation with a number of birthday celebrations with passengers, staff and airport partners today (Tuesday May 14).
The Gatwick Express came into full service on May 14, 1984, transporting passengers from London Victoria to Gatwick Airport.
The service was initially formed of Class 73 trains with specially modified coaches to carry passenger luggage.
Since its launch, Gatwick Express has evolved: in 2007 the service was extended to and from Brighton, became part of the UK’s biggest rail franchise Govia Thameslink Railway in 2015, and saw a £145m fleet renewal programme in 2016.
At London Victoria this morning the team surprised passengers with limited edition organic tote bags with a string quartet serenading arrivals.
A magician will also be on board a number of Gatwick Express services throughout the day, entertaining passengers with some close-up magic.
At Gatwick the team will be giving away cupcakes in the afternoon, alongside the string quartet’s entertainment.
Angie Doll, passenger services director for Southern and Gatwick Express, will also be cutting a special Gatwick Express train cake for staff to mark the birthday.
Stephen MacCallaugh, head of Gatwick Express, took on the role in February 2017 after working as a local development manager and project manager for GTR, and before this served as a station manager and train presentation manager at various locations under First Capital Connect.
He said: “The 35-year anniversary of operations is such an exciting occasion to be part of. It makes it even more special to be celebrating this event with the team.
“The Gatwick Express family make this a wonderful place to work.”
Members of staff are marking the birthday by sharing some of their favourite memories of the Gatwick Express, including a number of celebrity spots.
Simone Forzani, customer service host, said: “So many famous people have passed through our gates: Richard Branson’s been here and I’ve seen David Cameron twice. But the one who made me swoon was Damian Lewis. He was carrying loads of bags and was struggling to get through the gateline. I offered to help but he couldn’t speak because he had his ticket in his mouth, poor man.
“So I took it from him, popped it through the gate and let him through. Everyone was staring at us. He was so grateful for my help and then Damian Lewis turned around and smiled – at me.”
Michael Green, on-board supervisor, said: “It’s the magic touches we give to our customers that set us apart. Gatwick Express has allowed me to be who I am. I often make tongue-in-cheek announcements to put a smile on the faces of my customers; most of them know me and I tailor my announcements for them.
“We want them to have the ultimate experience. We’re very family-orientated, very friendly and we always put the customer at the heart of what we do.”
Basra Begum, sales clerk, said: “I remember when I started we had training for two weeks. I learned how to do platforms, then ticket office, then I worked on the information desk. It was much more about multi-skilling in the early days. There were no computers: we all had manuals to check fares. I still enjoy working for Gatwick Express, that’s why I’ve stayed here so long.”
Nigel Geary-Andrews, an on-board supervisor, said: “I remember one day Chris Eubank the boxer turned up at Victoria station. He asked me where the first-class compartment of the train was. He could see I recognised him, so he told me to come and find him later. I did go to see him and he insisted I have a photograph taken with him! He was a lovely man and although he’s no longer a boxer, he still looks like someone you’d wouldn’t want to have a fight with.”
As part of the celebrations, the Gatwick Express team invited prolific transport journalist and YouTuber, Geoff Marshall, to meet some of the staff that keep the 27 Gatwick Express trains running every day.
Looking ahead, a major station remodelling project will see further improvements for Gatwick Express passengers.
• When Gatwick Airport opened in 1936 (with just one terminal), the airport station was situated one mile south of the current station.
• During the Second World War, the airport was used as a military base.
• The first dedicated Gatwick Express train service launched on 14 May 1984, formed of Class 73 trains and specially modified coaches to carry passenger luggage.
• Following privatisation, in 1994 Gatwick Express became a company in its own right and was advertised as a new franchise.
• In 2000 eight brand new Class 460 trains were introduced.
• In 2007 the Department for Transport announced the extension of the service to and from Brighton, with reconditioned Class 442 trains brought in to manage the increased capacity in 2008.
• In April 2008 Gatwick Express was integrated with Southern.
• 2012 saw a 17 per cent increase in passengers, as well as a 100 per cent rise in people booking tickets online, following investment in mobile ticketing technologies.
• Gatwick Airport station platform 7 opened in 2014 – a £53m Network Rail project to meet rising demand.
• In 2015, Gatwick Express and Southern combined with Thameslink and Great Northern to create Govia Thameslink Railway, the UK’s largest rail franchise.
• Transport for London extended Oyster ‘pay-as-you-go’ and contactless payments at Gatwick Airport in 2016.
• After a £145m fleet renewal programme in 2016, the service now operates with 27 Class 387/2 Electrostars. The trains feature two-by-two seating, under-seat storage power sockets and WiFi.
• Today, the Gatwick Express runs 141 services per day and employs around 260 members of staff.