Travellers blame congestion at station for missing flights from Gatwick Airport
Some travellers vented their anger over Twitter, posting photographs of waiting crowds, and claiming to have missed flights due to the delays.
Southern Rail users say they have missed flights as an overcrowded rail replacement service caused crowds to bottleneck at Redhill station.
Police were on the scene as frustrated crowds, unable to use the Gatwick Express service to the airport, continued to swell into Sunday evening as they waited for buses.
Southern Rail had advised during the week that it would be operating a bus replacement service for the Gatwick Express between Redhill and Gatwick Airport while “essential maintenance work” was carried out.
Melany Dominguez was among those who missed their flights and blamed poor planning and crowd management by the rail service.
She said she saw three police officers trying to manage the crowd which she estimated numbered in the thousands: “People were getting agitated.”
By the time she managed to get onto a bus it took her to the wrong terminal, she said.
“I and a few young guys were running all the way to the airport to the terminal – I think they just made it. I was on the 5pm to Madrid so I just missed it.”
She checked the next morning’s flight on the bus, and it was £80, but by the time she missed her flight and went to rebook it was £95.
Ms Dominguez said she would be sleeping in the airport overnight, as the cost of the new flights left her unable to afford a hotel.
She hoped travellers who missed their flights would be compensated by the rail company.
“That would be ideal… I’m not really optimistic but I’m going to try. But if maybe all those people in there stick together we could say ‘you need to sort this situation out’.”
Cory Acasio told of witnessing chaotic scenes of frustrated commuters tripping over and pushing one another as the crowds grew.
“I stopped at the very front entrance to try and let an elderly person on, but no sooner did I make the gap that someone just barged right through, literally pushing me against the entrance.”
He also saw passengers nearly trampling one another.
“Not sure if there were injuries as I was focused on moving forward, but I did look back and saw the people who tripped get up and some people did help, but most were just aggravated and focused on getting in the bus.”
The crowds were a “nightmare” for passengers travelling with children, he said.
“I also saw a child screaming because she lost her mom, but luckily a stranger grabbed her and alerted her mom who was battling with getting through with a pram.”
More travellers lashed out at Southern on social media, many venting their anger over Twitter, posting photographs of waiting crowds, and claiming to have missed flights due to the delays.
⚠️ Due to overcrowding between London Victoria and #Redhill services are subject to disruption. We have sourced additional bus replacement services to help ease the volume of passengers.— Southern (@SouthernRailUK) February 25, 2018
The rail service’s Twitter account responded to some customers, saying they could apply for a refund for their Gatwick Express tickets.
National Rail and British Transport Police have been approached for comment.
The travel chaos marks the first of three Sundays where the track modernisation work on the Brighton Main Line will halt all Gatwick Airport
and South Coast-bound passengers.
The Reigate, Redhill and District Rail Users’ Association chairman Stephen Trigg said the group had written to Southern weeks ago warning them
to book enough replacement buses for the planned works.
He said a poorly-designed new platform access point had contributed to the bottleneck, and added: “I believe they should suspend the works until they work how to do it properly.”
A British Transport police spokesperson said four officers were sent in before 2pm to manage overcrowding and queuing at the station. By 8pm, officers were still on scene.
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT has been warning for years that SouthernGTR aren’t fit to run a bath let alone a railway and the terrifying pictures from Redhill today show why it is such a scandal that the union has been ignored.
“This is a company that has shown repeatedly that public safety is of little or no concern to them, and that is why our members on Southern have been engaged in a fight with GTR for nearly two years now.
“GTR should be stripped of this franchise and the public sector brought in before there’s a major tragedy.”
NHS worker Laura Knight said it was evident little planning had gone into the day, despite the works being planned. The rail operator had not prepared queuing gates, and staff seemed to be relying on police to control the crowds, with some people pushing to get onto the few buses available.
“People were missing their flights,” she said. “I saw blokes crying because they had missed their flights, saw really little old people, children, families getting stomped on.”