Brighton to Croydon and back. By bus.

Thursday 27th August 2020

It only takes 44 minutes on the train. But that’s far too easy a way to make the journey. How about taking the bus instead?

I set off yesterday on the 08:13 route 270 from Brighton to East Grinstead operated by Metrobus. I joined the bus by Preston Park with two other passengers already on board, which for a peak hour bus shows things are definitely not looking good for public transport at the moment.

It’s not just a lack of passengers. School holiday peak hour traffic was free flowing heading into the city and was even lighter northbound which, coupled with a very generous running time allocation (12 minutes between Preston Park, Harrington Road and Patcham Black Lion for a distance of one and a half miles for example) meant we spent considerable time waiting at bus stops so as not to run early. It’s not very enticing if you’re heading to work.

One passenger got off in Burgess Hill and the other at Wivelsfield Station but I wasn’t alone for long as at nearby Worlds End we were joined by a nurse heading to work at Haywards Heath’s Princess Royal Hospital and a gent making a short journey northwards and as he alighted we were joined by a Dad and his two young children travelling to Haywards Heath station.

After that it was just me and the driver enjoying the lovely West Sussex countryside through Lindfield, Horsted Keynes, Danehill and Chelwood Gate until our next passenger boarded with five more joining us in Forest Row all heading to the shops in East Grinstead.

I carried on to East Grinstead station arriving at 10:13 where the 270 terminates. I reckon almost 20 minutes of the two hour journey was spent idling for time. The timetable also includes a generous layover of around 50 minutes before the bus heads back to Brighton.

East Grinstead station has one of the longest bus shelters and seats in West Sussex – the same style I encountered on my recent trip to book a bus in Bristol.

There were also timetable displays for Metrobus, Southdown and Compass Bus albeit a little untidy, but at least every route is on show with some displayed twice….

… both in the bus shelter case and on the bus stop.

And there’s real time departure information at the bus stop too.

My next bus continuing northwards to Croydon was Southdown’s route 409. That’s not the old Southdown of course, Stagecoach dropped that name soon after they bought the former business and enterprising entrepreneurs picked it up to name their bus dealership some years ago, which also began running buses in this part of the world where the borders of West Sussex, Surrey and Kent meet.

The bus arrrived on time at 10:38 with two passengers on board who’d boarded at the first stop on the route at the War Memorial.

It was good to see timetable books available on board – dated January 2020 and seemingly current and up to date.

The 409 is a historic London Transport Country Bus department trunk route which ran from Forest Row and East Grinstead via the A22 to Lingfield, Godstone, and Caterham before terminating at West Croydon. Today’s 409 follows much of the same route except takes the road through Felcourt to Lingfield rather than the A22 then the original route via Blindley Heath, South Godstone and Godstone to Caterham and Caterham-on-the-Hill but instead of heading direct via Old Coulsdon and Purley to Croydon buses now take a cross valley route down to Whyteleaf, back up to Warlingham (via the old country bus 453 route) then pass the site of the old Chelsham bus garage (now Sainsbury’s) and on to Selsdon across rather nice Surrey countryside never previously served by London Transport’s Country Buses.

The 409’s route between Caterham and Seldson includes two dog legs to serve housing developments which have sprung up on former barracks and hospital sites.

The red arrow indicates the route taken by the 409 through The Village.

The first, known as ‘The Village’ is in Caterham-on-the-Hill just south of Coulsdon Common and involves a circuitous routing around the development, which I have to say looks a rather attractive place.

The new residential units have been sympathetically added to the former barracks buildings.

Back in 2000 Metrobus initiated a developer funded shuttle bus linking the area with Caterham Valley and Caterham Station but nowadays buses on route 409 run around the estate roads in the same direction to both Selsdon and East Grinstead, which is just as well as they’re timed to be in the area together each hour.

The other development on a dog leg is the site of the former Warlingham Park Hospital just beyond Chelsham and now the site of an upmarket housing development called Great Park.

We didn’t find any passengers from either area on the journey to Selsdon and I doubt there is much custom from Great Park, even though there’s a nice large wooden bus shelter nearby.

All told, seventeen passengers travelled at some point on the 10.38 journey with around half on the section of route south of Godstone and the other half travelling home from the shops between Caterham and across the valleys to Warlingham.

Whereas TfL’s bus routes head from Caterham, Carerham-on-the-Hill, Whyteleafe and Warlingham/Chelsham down the valleys into Croydon the 409 criss-crosses the valleys in this part of Surrey just south of the border with Greater London. Not surprisingly there was just one passenger on board as we pulled up at the terminus by Selsdon’s Sainsbury’s as this shopping area doesn’t have the same allure as a destination as nearby Croydon.

We arrived on time at 12:05 and the bus had stand time of 43 minutes before heading back south. The 409 runs to an hourly frequency during the daytime although there are some two-hour gaps between East Grinstead and Lingfield.

It was noticeable how the stand time on both the 270 and the 409 combined amounted to 90 minutes which seems remarkably slack. There’s pretty much time in the 409 schedule to continue on to Croydon itself, but that’s one of the anomalies of cross boundary routes not run by TfL; they don’t fit in very well to a network which only likes its buses painted red.

To get to Croydon it’s a case of jumping on a TfL route 64 or 433 which take about fifteen minutes for the two-and-a-half mile journey to the town centre. I opted for the six-bus-an-hour single deck 433 from Addington Interchange as my App was telling me there was one about to arrive. In any event, the more frequent eight-bus-an-hour double deck 64 from New Addington picks up at a different stop in Selsdon.

The lunch time journey was quite busy and with a dozen passengers on board we got dangerously close to the Covid capacity of 14. Most alighted in Croydon’s Park Street where this route now terminates.

It was all change for Croydon’s bus routes and their termini back in November last year after one of TfL’s network reviews and I realised, after a lunch break, my next bus to head back south again, route 405, no longer commenced its journey in West Croydon but started from Katharine Street, just round the corner from Park Street.

The bus stop flag confirmed this was the case, but something told me all was not right, and I recalled reading about temporary bus terminal arrangements in Croydon for social distancing reasons – and then spotted a yellow notice in the timetable case indicating changes had been made to the 405.

Looking up route 405 on TfL’s website also confirmed the 405’s first stop was Park Street so I returned there and despite there being no reference to 405 on the flag or in the timetable case – which was mostly blank anyway – I waited with some trepedation along with many other passengers with pretty much no regard for social distancing at a stop which was busier with all the departures now timetabled than the one in Katharine Street.

With ‘spider maps’ giving incorrect information, blank timetable cases and wrong bus stop flags, it wasn’t surprising there was a lot of confusion among waiting passengers, unsure where their bus was departing from.

Route 405 is another former London Transport Country Bus trunk route which ran from West Croydon to Redhill, Crawley and on to Horsham. Today’s modern day version is a TfL contracted route currently run by Go-Ahead but about to be passed over to Arriva from this weekend. It runs every 15 minutes with a 45 minute journey time to Redhill.

The route in South Croydon as far as Purley is via Pampisford Road which runs parallel to the A23 Brighton Road but otherwise it follows the 405 of old via Coulsdon and Merstham to Redhill. It was a busy journey but well within the capacity of 30 for the double deck bus.

In Redhill’s bus station it was great to see Metrobus had their information kiosk open and in the capable hands of the very knowledgable Tom Bowell. Tom lives in Croydon so we shared frustrations about the lack of information about terminal arrangements for buses in the town before I continued my journey south on a Metrobus route 100.

Metrobus hourly route 400 is the direct and quickest journey from Redhill to Crawley taking 36 minutes with just one small deviation to serve East Surrey Hospital a short distance off the A23, but I opted for the 20 minute frequency, ‘fastway’ branded route 100 which wanders off the A23 to serve Meath Green, Horley, part of Gatwick Airport’s perimeter road and Crawley’s Manor Royal Business District – which was eerily quiet as we passed through. This journey takes 54 minutes, but I wasn’t worried about timings as my next journey south from Crawley on the infrequent Brighton bound 273 wasn’t leaving until 16:30.

We kept to single figures on board the 100 throughout the journey and by Gatwick Airport there were just two of us left on board with no other takers through to Crawley.

Again, it was good to see Metrobus had their travel shop open for business in Crawley’s bus station and the usual friendly and helpful staff on hand.

The final leg on the 273 at 16:30 turned out to be a popular journey with more than a dozen passengers boarding in Crawley’s bus station, perhaps because the previous journey had left at 13:03 and it was also the last journey of the day on this route.

The 273’s history goes back to Southdown days as well as a time when a jointly operated ‘Sealine’ branded route 773 with London Country ran from Crawley to Brighton in the early 1980s following the A23 via Handcross, Bolney and Sayers Common before diverting off to serve Hurstpierpoint and Hassocks. Today’s 273 also serves Pease Pottage on a short dog-leg on a flyover over the A23. The journey time to Brighton is an hour and six minutes but I hopped off near Hassocks to home.

It was an interesting day’s bus riding and certainly made a change from the usual train journey to Croydon, even though it took much longer. Both Metrobus and Southdown provided much better information at all points along the way than TfL could manage in Croydon, so well done to them both.

Roger French

11 thoughts on “Brighton to Croydon and back. By bus.

Add yours

  1. Always interesting to see Selsdon mentioned, having spent the first 20 years of my life there!
    Yes, the diversion to Great Park does seem pretty unnecessary – an exclusive estate where property prices range from £500k to £1m doesn’t look a particularly propitious prospect for bus travel at the best of times, especially when the route doesn’t even reach Croydon and doesn’t run early/late enough to get commuters into London on a train from Whyteleafe or Upper Warlingham. But at least the 409 does run the full route on Saturdays now, which for a long time it didn’t, and if that is the usual vehicle for the route then it’s good to see they’ve upped their game there as well.


  2. I enjoyed this article having done similar journeys myself and having lived on Caterham for many years. Pre Covid, buses arriving at Selsdon on the 409 formed a 357 to Reigate, meaning a much shorter layover. The 357 has been suspended but resumes when the schools go back. Caterham Village was served by a local service 411 until Covid, when it was suspended and replaced with the 409 diversion.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I believe that I am right in saying that Metrobus and Southdown share more than just providing good information; I believe that the owners of Southdown PSV are former Metrobus owners.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting to see the comments about duplication of timetables between shelter frame and bus stop post frame. If I was planning and distributing such publicity I would prefer it to be one or the other – preferably always on the bus stop frame, as not all stops have shelters but all have posts or their equivalent. Also for all timetables to be in a standard (A4?) format so that it’s easy to know what space is available – you just need to know how many routes stop and how many A4 spaces there are, with a couple left over for maps, diversion notices (and the current Covid-19 safety or revised services notices, which often block timetables*). Shelter frames can be used for other materials such as large maps, marketing material etc. But I know there speaks an idealise.

    * I’ve got a theory about this. As these were presumably posted in a hurry, maybe the ‘people with a van’ just unscrewed the access cover and shoved the notice at the bottom, before moving on to the next stop as soon as possible, This is despite some blank space or less important notice being available to cover up, but with more time taken to access it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A very familiar itinerary that I have enjoyed in the past.

    Good to see the Redhill and Crawley travel shops are both open; a excellent example for other operators to follow!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As pointed out, more or less everything rode on was working a Saturday version of the normal schedule, and it will all get amazingly more efficient from Tuesday when “normality” returns! One just hopes and prays children will return to normal travel, because if not, companies such as Southdown PSV, where a major part of the business is based upon school movements, will cease to exist unless given railway-style subsidies. And we know the answer to that!


  7. How unsurprising that when it comes to roadside publicity on this trip, TfL now comes out the worst, something that would have been thought impossible only five years ago. The recent article in “Buses” magazine marking 20 years of TfL, which read more like a hagiography, failed to mention the total collapse of publicity provision and/or accuracy which has occurred under this organisation.


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