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.
Katja, who did not wish to give a surname, was among those who missed their flights, blaming poor communication and crowd management for the chaos.
The researcher said she and a colleague waited for over two hours in the freezing cold for a bus to take them to Gatwick for their flight to Barcelona.
Katja, who works for a think tank and is due to speak at a conference on Monday in the Spanish city, left much earlier than normal after reading there would be a delay.
She said: “The train was packed and when we got to Redhill, it took us a long time to get off the platform because there were so many people. It was completely packed. There was a huge line outside waiting for the buses.
“There was no system whatsoever. There were people just trying to get on the train back to Victoria and hundreds of people trying to leave with all their suitcases. It was a mess.
“There were also elderly people and parents with children and babies in the crowd, and it was so cold. Buses were also backing up into the crowd and there were no barriers. It doesn’t seem very safe and that’s what made me angry.”
By the time she finally arrived at Gatwick the flight had already left. She didn’t get home to London until 7:30pm.
“I doubt they will offer compensation but hopefully this won’t happen again. I think they could have communicated so much better. I’m not usually an angry person but I found it quite upsetting” she said.
Some at the station described frustrated commuters tripping over and pushing one another as the crowd grew.
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 the police to control the crowds, with some people pushing to get on to the few buses available.
“People were missing their flights,” she said. “I saw blokes crying because they had missed their flights, saw old people, children, families getting stomped on.”
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. “I believe they should suspend the works until they work how to do it properly,” he added.
A British Transport police spokesperson said four officers were sent before 2pm to manage overcrowding and queuing at the station. By 8pm, officers were still on scene.