‘Going anywhere nice for your holidays?’ Gatwick has long been the obvious airport of choice for people from Croydon looking to jet away, but the completion of the £17.6bn CrossRail could finally provide a viable public transport route from south London to flights from Heathrow.
KEN TOWL put it to the test
A message arrives from Inside Croydon Towers: try out the new Elizabeth Line, see if it makes getting to Heathrow any easier, cheaper or more pleasant.
It proves to be two of these and, as the great Meatloaf was wont to claim, “Two out of three ain’t bad.”
It is certainly easy.
You just jump on one of the many Thameslink services heading up to Bedford or other points north via Farrringdon and change there for the central section of the Elizabeth Line.
Or, to give it its full name, the Mass Transit Railway Elizabeth Line, or MTREL for short.
Parent company MTR has interests in The People’s Republic of China, Australia, Sweden and, now a narrow strip stretching from Reading to the west of London to Shenfield to the east.
It turns out we do have a partly nationalised transport system in the UK. Nationalised, but just not by the UK. MTR began as the metropolitan railway for Hong Kong and, is majority state-owned.
I left East Croydon on the 10.31 and arrived at Farringdon 25 minutes later. I followed the big purple Elizabeth Line signs and within a couple of minutes got on the train to Paddington. Here, for the time being at least, you have to change, emerging on one side of the main hall of Paddington station and cross to the other. No problem for me but I wouldn’t fancy doing it with a couple of large cases.
The plan is to join up the separate sections of the line eventually for a single-train journey from one end of the line to the other. But for now, we will have to make do with a bit of faff at Paddington.
Hardly any wait at Paddington, and the trip is a smooth, comfortable journey overground through the light industrial estates and business parks of western London, with plenty of time to admire the new moquette.
Even though the Elizabeth Line is not strictly part of the London Underground Tube family, it does have its LU style moquette, the fabric design on the seats, a rather fetching mixture of purples, blues and beige, with flashes of red and orange.
Oddly, the Elizabeth appears on the new tube maps as “Elizabeth line” alongside the other lines which are referred to just by their name, the Victoria, Central or Bakerloo, etc.
So, while we are expected to infer that the blue line on the map denotes the Victoria line, and the red line marks out the trajectory of the Central line, we need to be informed that the purple line is the Elizabeth line line. Maybe I am making something out of nothing, but it looks strange. Did someone somewhere think that “Elizabeth” by itself would sound disrespectful?
We arrived at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 at 11.45. So the journey, station to station, was just under an hour and a quarter. At £32.30 for an off-peak single ticket (the return is double that) it was not cheap, but it was nice and it is relatively quick.
So, if this summer you are flying off somewhere not quite as hot as London, perhaps the Elizabeth line line does offer those travelling from Croydon a reasonable alternative to having to drive, or be driven, to Heathrow or, worse, forking out at least twice as much as the train fare for an Uber or such-like.
For a change, I travelled back on the X26, the half-hourly service that costs the price of a single Oyster or debit card fare, £1.65 – about 5per cent of the new train fare.
While the X26 wins hands down in terms of money, it is pretty awful in any other respect.
The journey back, after a bit of a wait at the airport, took just over an hour and three-quarters. The seats are quite cramped, there is little space for luggage and the service seems to be designed more for airport workers than for travellers.
It has a claim to being TfL’s longest bus route, and you do get to see a lot of planes close up as the bus meanders through and around Heathrow. Some people might like that sort of thing.
The bus does meander a lot, though, through Hampton Wick and Kingston and New Maldon and Cheam and Sutton and Carshalton before it gets to Croydon. And there is traffic. For a while, between Hampton and Wick, our X26 got stuck behind a slow-moving 481.
The 481 is run by RATP Group, another state-owned enterprise with a logo based on the meandering River Seine that runs past its headquarters. It seems that, in this country we have the nationalised transport system that the left clamours for. It is just that it has been nationalised by other countries.
So, while Hong Kong’s offer was fast, comfortable and expensive, the bus was slow uncomfortable and cheap. I think I will stick to flying off from Gatwick in future. You can get there for £5.90 off-peak on Southern (which is partly owned by SNCF, the French state rail system) or Thameslink (also part-owned by SNCF!) and you can get there in 15 minutes from East Croydon.
Vive la difference!
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Well done for comparing the various options Ken. But I’m wondering why it cost £32.30. Isn’t there a cap of £14.10 or similar on TfL single fares?
Gatwick clearly scores over Heathrow for us in Croydon. If you have to use Heathrow I suspect East Croydon to Victoria and then District Line to Hammersmith and Piccadilly Line from there to Heathrow is as quick as your route using the Elizabeth Line.
No. District Line to Barons Court where you only have to take your luggage across the platform for the Piccadilly line
There is, of course, also the trauma factor of going Norff of the River, not forgetting passport control at the S/ N London boundary at Faringdon.
On a more serious note, in the 1990’s or the Noughties, South London/ Surreyers were given a side gate into Heathrow via Feltham Railway station (on the Hounslow loop). Quite easy–and cheap–via Clapham Junction.
For a while, there were express buses from Feltham to the H’Row terminals, so I recall (but happy to be corrected by transport experts).
These were ditched…. presumably when the underground was extended to serve all terminals ?
I still sometimes use the route via Feltham, mainly for Memory Lane’s sake (as I once worked at Hounslow Council) , or if the Underground is not working, but the bus connections now from Feltham to Heathrow bus station seems to go via Timbuctoo and Outer Mongolia, so it is not direct from station to all the terminals,
But a useful link, nonetheless.
Sad that Feltham Station’s moment of transport glory was so short-lived. In the fast moving world of transport, a key hub or node today can have its tracks ripped up tomorrow..
I remember using the Clapham Junction/Feltham route in the 90s. As I recall the bus from Feltham to Heathrow wasn’t exactly an express but nonetheless got you there quite quickly. I see from Profitwarning’s comment in this thread that you can apparently still use this route effectively.
£32.50 is the cost using the Heathrow Express train. Normal oyster fares apply on Thames link and Elizabeth and freedom passes are valid
I too wondered why Mr Towl quoted the Heathrow Express fare. If like me, he has a 60+ Oyster, it is free of charge. In fact , I can’t use that card to Gatwick, so it’s LHR for me.
That’s true, but there is a “Heathrow surcharge” just on the Elizabeth line (unless you have a Freedom Pass etc)
So, pretty much the same price as an Uber from East Croydon to Gatwick.
Way I use is going to Clapham Junction (10 mins), then Feltham (20 mins), then bus (15 mins)
With interchanges it is around the same time as the tube (an hour and a bit), however it is much cheaper because you don’t pay the absurd Heathrow surcharge – £3.30 + £1.65, off peak. Also not busy (outside of peak hours)
Even with bags it is not a difficult change, Feltham station to the bus stop is probably a shorter distance than Victoria National rail to the Underground platforms.
Great idea for an article. I wonder how much of a difference the Paddington connection will make… not much, by the sounds of it!
Purley to Gatwick cost me £3.50 recently, which really surprised me!
What an expensive faff! Take the X26 from West Croydon to Heathrow. I used it and its predecessor for years – takes a while, but no changes, convenient and cheap.
No matter how you turn it, you need at least 90 minutes and quite a few transfers to get from Croydon to Heathrow. Plus if using Elizabeth Line, you spend some money. X26 will get you there in 2 hours, no transfers, for £1.65.
Honestly…. let’s get serious.
If you’re going to get serious, Patricia, then you need to deal with the facts.
Using the Farringdon-Elizabeth Line route will soon involve just one change and takes less than 1hr 15min – not the “at least 90 minutes” that you claim.
It’s not a tube line, hence the difference in name. It’s a mainline railway, even though the central chunk is under the ground. The same reason overground isn’t called overground line.
Paint London Transport roundels on it and it’s a tube train. Estate agents were wetting themselves when East London Line revamp meant “the tube” running through Norwood Jucntion and West Croydon.
So why is the Metropolitan Line called the Metropolitan Line? And is it part of the Tube?
And all that above-ground railway called the District Line… is that the Tube?