Southern trains between Littlehampton and London via Hove will soon no longer have to divide and join at Haywards Heath.
From May, Govia Thameslink Railway is changing its timetables for two years to make space for a massive upgrade to Gatwick Airport Railway Station to relieve crowding, improve accessibility and reduce delays.
Network Rail’s building work will put platforms out of use and mean speed restrictions for trains passing through the worksite, all of which means fewer services can run.
Currently Southern services from London Victoria to both Eastbourne and Littlehampton travel as one train to Haywards Heath before dividing.
Meanwhile in the return direction trains from Eastbourne and Littlehampton travel to Haywards Heath before joining for the journey to London Victoria.
However this division and joining of trains at Haywards Heath, combined with overtaking moves by other trains, adds a significant level of operational complexity to the network in the current timetable.
When the platform work at Gatwick Airport starts in May 2020, GTR says it will have fewer options available meaning that maintaining these division and joining moves creates major potential for delay across the network.
The rail operator says the elimination of most division and join moves at Haywards Heath will improve reliability while the line is able to accommodate fewer trains.
This has been achieved by diverting the existing Victoria to Brighton service to Eastbourne via Lewes. This enables the existing London Victoria to Littlehampton to operate without dividing.
A GTR spokesman said: “It also significantly increases passenger capacity on the two routes, both of which are the most crowded services in the south with passengers regularly standing for over one hour. This will represent a major service improvement for passengers on the routes to and from Littlehampton and Eastbourne at stations such as Preston Park or Lewes.”
The West Coastway and East Coastway Southern services will operate with longer eight-carriage trains throughout most of the day, providing twice as much space on board.
West Coastway services will make new station stops at Preston Park (increasing services to half hourly), Hassocks and Burgess Hill, while East Coastway services will make extra station stops at Wivelsfield, introducing a new half-hourly service in both directions.
Angie Doll, managing director of Southern and Gatwick Express, said: “With over 20million passengers now using Gatwick station every year, this upgrade is essential to address overcrowding, improve accessibility and maintain a sustainable, reliable and punctual rail service for visitors and commuters along the route alike.
“This revised temporary timetable will create room for the work at the station while retaining as many services as possible, supplemented by longer trains.”
Paul Harwood, regional investment director for Network Rail, added: “The continued popularity and convenience of travelling by rail to Gatwick Airport means the station is now seeing more passengers than it was ever designed to handle. With further growth forecast, the station is in urgent need of improvement so that rail travel to and from the airport can continue to grow and help Gatwick support the local economy even more.
“The temporary timetable changes will enable this vital construction work, allowing us to make the station safer, more accessible and capable of supporting smoother journeys for more trains and passengers long into the future.”
Exact details of the timetable changes are due to be published later this month.