Watford-Gatwick Route Surveys
Clients: LTUC/Southern, Sep-Nov 2004
London Travelwatch/TfL London Rail/Passenger Focus/Southern, Feb-Apr 2006
During 2004, the Strategic Rail Authority produced its Brighton Line Route Utilisation Strategy, one of a series of documents aiming to plan demand and capacity on key sections of the national rail network. As one of its recommendations, it was suggested that the Watford-Gatwick service should be terminated at Clapham Junction, with passengers for stations further South changing at Clapham. This suggestion was made on the basis of apparently-low numbers of passengers remaining on the service through Clapham.
However, the figures underlying this recommendation did not ring true with the LTUC, who therefore commissioned the Railway Consultancy to carry out a thorough assessment of demand levels on this service. We carried out on-train counts of every service between Watford and East Croydon, also noting passengers boarding and alighting. In addition, we handed out 3500 reply-paid postcards to passengers, inviting them to give details of their journeys. Remarkably, over 1600 passengers responded, enabling us to analyse with confidence the trip patterns on the line, and to supply train operator Southern with a demand matrix.
Our analysis highlighted a weakness in the SRA data, which had been derived from partial ticket sales information. Our counts indicated that roughly double the number of passengers were using the service, compared to the SRA figures. As a result, our report rejected the SRA's suggestion, instead arguing for limited expansion of the service, given the levels of business actually being carried.
A follow-up survey in early 2006 showed that passenger boardings had risen by 40% and train loadings by 20% since the earlier work, the difference between these figures reflecting the shorter nature of the extra trips. Peak loadings have reached 470 per train on 4-car trains, making these services amongst the most crowded in the country. However, the diverse nature of offpeak trips was again recorded from a high survey response rate. Increased numbers of all passengers have further strengthened the case for developing services in this corridor, and options for the Southern end of the route are now being considered.
Further surveys undertaken in October 2007 for London TravelWatch highlighted the continuing growth on London’s rail system. Over the previous 18 months, demand on Southern’s services on the West London Line was found to have risen by no less than 28%, with the largest increases on Sundays and during weekday peak periods. The latter partly reflected the provision of extra shuttle train services between Clapham Junction and Kensington Olympia but, despite these, the highest passenger load recorded was as much as 559 in a 4-car trainset. Further train services were added by operator Southern in the December 2007 timetable, but these figures all exclude the impact of the new Shepherd’s Bush station (which has yet to open) or the proposed redevelopment of the Clapham Junction area. However, the level of existing demand (2.5mppa on Southern services in this corridor) is already ahead of the 10-year forecasts in Network Rail’s Route Utilisation Strategy.
In the meanwhile, 2-3% of journeys remain to/from Gatwick Airport, with both Watford Jc and Harrow & Wealdstone acting as railheads. This has prompted local authorities to write with concern to Government Ministers, fearing that through journeys between Watford Jc and Brighton might be sacrificed in order to ensure sufficient capacity in the core section. Questions have been asked in both Houses of Parliament, and the Department for Transport is now considering its response, using the data collected by the Railway Consultancy.
Last updated: Sunday, 18th December 2016
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