GWR quits Brighton. What a shame.

30th April 2022

If you fancy taking a direct train from Brighton station to somewhere beyond the normal Southern/ Thameslink outposts of Southampton, London Victoria, Bedford, Cambridge or Hastings/Ore then you’ve got just ten working days left. After Friday 13th May those destinations will be the limit of your rail travel experience without a change of train.

GWR announced a few weeks ago it will be ending its two journeys a day direct service from Brighton to Worcester (in the morning) and Bristol (in the afternoon) via Southampton, Salisbury and Bristol when the new summer timetable starts on 15th May.

These journeys, which are shown in the timetable as running daily, morphed into only running on Mondays to Fridays a while ago – totally out of tune with the growth in weekend leisure travel of course – but will be no more after Friday 13th May.

It wasn’t that many years ago the West Coastway tracks to and from Brighton saw GWR loco hauled trains as well as hourly trains extending as far as Bournemouth (admittedly I’m going back to the Connex era) and South West Trains running regularly into the city from Basingstoke. My memory is a bit hazy but I think these ran two-hourly, and I may have dreamt it, but I think some continued beyond Basingstoke to Reading.

To the east Southern ran as far as Ashford where there were handy connections to the rest of Kent but these trains were cut back to Eastbourne in the great May 2018 timetable revolution, admittedly a sensible move with the class 170 diesel units being restricted to two coaches proving inadequate at busy times between Brighton, Lewes and Eastbourne.

For many years there were InterCity long distance trains from Brighton to the north of England and even Scotland. These took the Brighton Main Line (BML) to Clapham Junction and continued via Kensington Olympia to either the West Coast Main Line or doubling back to the Great Western line and running via Reading and then Oxford and Banbury to Birmingham and beyond.

These journeys passed to Virgin Trains and subsequently Cross Country at privatisation and linked Manchester with Reading and Gatwick Airport and Brighton two or three times a day.

The final remnant of these was withdrawn in December 2008. Further details of these journeys can be found on the fascinating 1S76 website which charts “the rise and fall of cross country train services to and from Brighton” from 1979 to 2009.

While these journeys usually took longer than going via London they offered the convenience of a direct journey which is particularly welcomed by many passengers especially those with luggage, families and those unsteady on their feet.

Many passengers don’t like the idea of using the Underground between Victoria and other London termini for trains heading to the west country or north although Thameslink does provide a better option for Kings Cross, St Pancras and Euston via a short walk. It’s a shame connections in Stevenage aren’t better between Thameslink trains to and from Brighton and LNER’s Leeds and York stopping trains as that would also make for a handy connection point.

I’ve used the GWR service from Brighton as far as Bristol a few times. It’s a 5 hours 18 minutes marathon if you travel all the way to Worcester but you can do it an hour quicker via London. However It takes 3 hours 31 minutes on the GWR direct service from Brighton to Bristol which compares well with a 3 hours 26 minutes journey via London mainly because connections between arrivals into Victoria and departures from Paddington are either unrealistically tight or a bit slack for the Victoria to Paddington change, meaning an hour spent in London.

You used to be able to pick up some bargain priced advanced purchase fares by taking the direct route too. I recall an £8 single for Brighton to Bristol on one occasion – and that was without a Railcard.

The one downside I’ve found on previous trips is the timekeeping of the service mainly because it used to be slotted into a path following a stopping train out of Brighton to West Worthing which itself had a tendency to run late. There was nothing more frustrating than crawling along though Aldrington and Fishersgate losing time and knowing there’s three more travelling hours ahead.

Pathing is of course one of the challenges for these long distance regional-come-inter-city services when tracks are intensively used by frequent commuter style services. It’s what killed off the Virgin/Cross Country trains which used to reach Gatwick Airport and Brighton and referred to earlier. The BML just wasn’t suited to their like.

Southern have withdrawn the 08:53 stopper to West Worthing on Mondays to Fridays in recent months (it still runs on Saturdays) giving the GWR train leaving at 08:59 a much clearer run but ironically on my recent journey for one last time on the GWR service earlier this month on Good Friday, both the 08:53 and 08:59 were running and sure enough we caught up with it by the time we reached Fishersgate eight minutes out of Brighton.

Another factor is the diesel units used don’t lend themselves to comfortable long journeys with their restrictive leg room. Class 158s have been the mainstay in recent months and at least the train has been formed of three coaches in recent times, whereas years ago the two coaches provided were woefully inadequate.

My ‘one last ride’ on Good Friday may have meant there were more than the usual number of leisure travellers due to the Easter break but we left Brighton with 100 on board which is quite impressive for a journey that’s about to be withdrawn. Obviously not all were making lengthy journeys, and some hopped off at local stations including Hove, Shoreham-by-Sea and Worthing, but in each case we picked many more up than we dropped off.

By Worthing the conductor/guard was making announcements imploring passengers to remove bags from seats so everyone could sit down as the train was getting busier. Annoyingly some ignored the request and continued to fetter their luggage.

Another annoyance is the lateness of opening the doors allowing passengers to board. It was 08:53 before the conductor/guard (who had been taking his break on board after arriving into Brighton from Portsmouth Harbour at 08:35) allowed the growing number of passengers waiting on platform 1 on to the train.

On a long journey passengers want to get settled into their seats well before departure time at the terminus station and it just upsets them when they can’t.

I didn’t travel all the way to Worcester on Good Friday – I had other exciting plans, like spending 4 hours and 40 minutes travelling back from Portsmouth to Brighton by bus but I kept an eye on the timekeeping of the 08:59 Brighton to Worcester on its 5 hours and 18 minutes marathon and I’m pleased to report having at one time become ten minutes down between Cosham and Portchester it arrived into Worcester Foregate Street after calling at 30 stations along the way dead on time.

Farewell GWR in Brighton. We’ll miss you.

Roger French

PS: An addendum to Tuesday’s blog about Coventry’s revamped railway station with many thanks to Peter Murnaghan who raided his slide collection and found these two images showing how convenient bus and rail interchange was at one time at the station.

Many thanks Peter for passing on these photos.

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS.

16 thoughts on “GWR quits Brighton. What a shame.

Add yours

  1. It is a shame these are being withdrawn. Brighton has seen a massive reduction in long distance services over the past years. It was a lot better twenty years ago. The hourly Brighton to Watford Junction service with a 377 that Southern ran is another one that was withdrawn a while ago.

    The SWT services to Brighton were hourly. It was booked as every two hours Brighton to Basingstoke with a 450 and every two hours Brighton to Reading with a 170 so every hour combined. There was also a once a day in each direction Brighton to London Waterloo and vice versa service going the long way round. Also every day in the early morning and late evening there were some SWT services to and from Salisbury as well. Finally SWT also ran some Brighton to Plymouth and Brighton to Paignton services with 158 and 159 trains mainly on weekends only. It was a very useful service to have an hourly fast train along the West Coastway route.

    I think Southern really need to introduce a fast express limited stop service along the West Coastway now that these GWR services are gone. Maybe something like Brighton – Worthing – Chichester – Havant – Portsmouth or Brighton – Worthing – Chichester – Havant – Fareham – Southampton would be good. Trains along the West Coastway are just too slow these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Basingsroje was hourly with gaps when the GWR services which are now being withdrawn had the path instead. Reading extensions with diesel 170s were only 3 hourly, meaning that only two units were required. The Basingstokes were 450 desiros. I will miss the GWR service as it is the only service from Coastway West which offers a decent connection onto SWR trains from Cosham or Fareham towards Winchester and Basingstoke.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There were plans for a Western direct link to Heathrow which would at least it theory allow for direct trains from Brighton to Heathrow

    Whether these plans are still active I do not no. Ir seems to have gone very quite

    It would offer a lot of benefits and avoid the need for people to go into Paddington and back out or to use the Reading to Heathrow coach service
    Link here: https://www.networkrail.co.uk/running-the-railway/our-routes/western/western-rail-link-to-heathrow/#:~:text=The%20Western%20Rail%20Link%20to%20Heathrow%20%28WRLTH%29%20would,existing%20rail%20lines%20underground%20at%20Heathrow%20Terminal%205.

    Like

  3. We found the Basingstoke trains very useful when we lived in Winchester and travelled regularly to Brighton.

    The Exeter to Brighton trains hold a special place for me – I got one over Christmas once, all the way, for a date. Yesterday was our 16th wedding anniversary 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t know if I ever used GWR east of Portsmouth along the south coast but that service to Brighton was the rump of the Wessex Trains service itself inherited from South Wales and West.Under SWW it was generally run using 158’s and probably 156’s but under Wessex class 31’s,ex EWS ones I think,where used with guessing Mk 2 carriages.Another withdrawn service thereabouts is the South Western Railway London Waterloo Bristol service which was introduced by South West Trains but based on a much longer SWW service from Wales, can’t remember if it came from Swansea or Cardiff for Waterloo and really designed to connect with Paris and Brussels trains when they went from Waterloo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely not 156s, Kevan, as Regional Railways Wales & West (later SWWR) never had any, but it’s quite likely that their 150/2s covered the route.
      The Eurostar Connect service started from Manchester, running along the North & West line via Shrewsbury then avoiding Newport and continuing via Bristol & Salisbury to Waterloo. I doubt anyone ever used it to connect with Eurostars, but it was known to carry passengers for some surprisingly long distances (as indeed did most of the linked long-distance services operated by Regional Railways and its divisions before privatisation).

      Roger, if you think GWR 158s are bad, you should try EMR’s which were reseated by Stagecoach EMT into a commuter configuration with no legroom for anyone taller than about 5′ 6″!

      Like

      1. The class 31s were a Friday afternoon thing to increase capacity. They weren’t used daily. It is correct that 158s have been the mainstay in recent years supported by 150s of all sub classes including 150001/2 and the 1509xx three car sets. 165s and 166s now appear too, 165101 making its first appearance last week. SWT 159s on hire to GWR were rostered for a period in 2017/8 too.

        Like

      2. Well EMT,or is it EMR I forget if it gained a T and lost an R or vice versa when Stagecoach lost it,was a fusion of Midland Mainline and Central Trains(part of)an Inter City and Regional operation and they will tend to give their all to the London based IC operation and view the regional as either a sideline or as feeding into the London operation.Some of those EM regional trains run very long distances like Norwich to Liverpool and I actually know someone who does the whole trip living in Norwich but with friends in Liverpool.This must be one of the longest regional runs in England although Northern’s Carlisle to Nottingham Sunday only run, assuming it still runs,must be similar.

        Like

  5. Well, yes and no. The 31s + LHCS replaced a 158 diagram on Fridays so that the unit thus saved could be used to strengthen another diagram.

    I was one of the few pax on the train who had a legitimate reason for using it. At the time I was working in Redhill and had relatives living in Somerset with whom I could spend the weekend. By skiving off early I could get down to Brighton in time to catch the 31s to Salisbury and connect into a down WoE to Templecombe, which in turn connected into the evening 58c to Wincanton. Usually returned home on Sunday afternoon on Berry’s coach.

    Like

  6. I can remember as a child seeing the lovely “West Country” 4-6-2’s on the daily Brighton-Exeter train. “Bude” and “Padstow” were the regular performers if I recall correctly. Those were the days!

    Like

  7. Such a pity that Brighton is losing another service. One reason this one hasn’t been more popular to get to the West Country and Worcester is that the National Rail Journey Planner listed it only if you specified a direct journey and one that went via Fratton (or another station near it).
    Apart from several journeys along the South Coast on this service, I’ve made two excellent trips on it.
    1. In 2014 I persuaded friends that, instead of driving three cars to Bath for our holiday, we should take the direct GWR train. None of them had heard of the service, even though some are regular train users. We booked return tickets in advance and, with Railcard discounts, it was cheaper than the fuel would’ve been for driving (even when petrol was not as expensive as it is today). We were allocated 8 seats close to each other so, as nobody had to drive, all of us could start our holiday as soon as we got on the train.
    2. Four years ago a friend and I used the GWR service to travel with bicycles to Weston super Mare, changing at Bristol Temple Meads. The advance single fare, with Railcards, cost £9.25. It took 15 minutes longer than the other non-London route (which had two changes, at Gatwick and Reading) but was almost £70 cheaper. After cycling back to Brighton on bridleways, we were able to spend the £70 on chamois cream.

    Like

  8. The whole decimation of services to Brighton is a disgrace and has left Brighton as little more than a London suburban station. When I moved to Brighton in 1986, regular trains ran to Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh. Although things were briefly maintained by Cross Country Trains, they were sent a long way around the outskirts of London, whereas to have used the Redhill to Reading route made a lot more sense so, of course, ultimately they had to go. Through trains to Watford Junction and Rugby via Northampton were quickly curtailed to a Croydon to Milton Keynes suburban service as we were told Brighton travellers only wanted to go to Victoria and the link between Brighton and Ashford International was, one gets the impression, only begrudgingly introduced in the first place and no attempts were ever made to either strengthen the number of carriages nor to bridge the non-electrified gap between Ore and Ashford. As has already been well covered, Brighton to Basingstoke and Reading services were taken off when some civil servant decided an extra service to Southampton ‘looked better’ and services to Exeter and beyond had already been removed. We now lose a well-used direct connection to places such as Salisbury, Bath, Bristol and further and meanwhile both the existing Coastway East and Coastway West services remain much reduced under the new timetables from mid-May and ancient trains trundle along the coast between Brighton and Portsmouth stopping at yet more intermediate stations using 3-car units better destined for the crap yard and with no toilet facilities. Welcome to the third world!

    Like

    1. XC ran two routes to Brighton when I worked for BR,later Thames Trains,in the 1990’s;one went via Kensington Olympia and the other via Guildford.There was one to Ramsgate too which I think went via Ashford?I can’t remember where those trains originated but I think that the Brighton’s from Manchester and the Ramsgate just New Street?There was a London Paddington too which went to Glasgow and it left Paddington about 15hr calling at Slough.The Brighton’s where cut back to Gatwick and then Guildford and if they still run it’ll be Reading now where they’d have gone anyhow.The Ramsgate one often had a class 55 on it!Those trains where mainly 47 hauled but occasionally you’d see 31’s,33’s,37’s and 73’s.And if you where lucky and they broke down 56’s,58’s,60’s and I think,a friend told me,a 59 was drafted in!I think that the original loco must have supplied hotel power and the freight locos haulage.

      Like

  9. A general worsening of long-distance train services. I remember the Eastbourne to Glasgow service, National Express also has withdrawn so many useful routes like Cheltenham to Eastbourne via Guildford. Where are NE routes north from Reading now? I suppose the Dft decides on rail withdrawals, but why?, while NE is purely a business decision.

    Like

  10. What a terrible shame, as someone often hauling heavy luggage, I loved the one train NO CHANGES service that the old Cross Country (operated in the BR Blue days) used to provide. The Mk 2’s offered a lot more comfortable seating as well. Just another indication of how sad the UK has become.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: