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Commuters trial new Clippers commuter boat service into London

By KentOnline reporter

Commuters are being invited on board a new boat service taking people into the capital from Gravesend as part of a four-day pilot.

To see how the journeys compared, chief reporter Suz Elvey took to the water, while reporter Ellis Stephenson raced her on the train. Here are their experiences.


Boarding the clipper was relatively stress-free and I had my pick of seats as I'd arrived a bit early.

The on board cafe was serving hot drinks and breakfast snacks so I got myself a black coffee to combat the tiredness from the early start.

Shortly after we left, an announcement revealed the bar was open and serving beers and wine. I decided 7.15am was a tad early for a glass of red, even for a journalist.

MBNA Thames Clippers trialling new service from Gravesend Town Pier into central London
MBNA Thames Clippers trialling new service from Gravesend Town Pier into central London

I was surprised at how fast the boat went. It wasn't quick enough for drinks to be flying everywhere or people to be tripping into each other but it certainly wasn't hanging about.

Perhaps it was because it was a novelty, being the first trial trip, but the atmosphere on the boat seemed a lot brighter than on the normal morning commute - people were chatting to one another and smiling rather than burying their faces in their tablets or phones.

I did see one man asleep though!

The clipper service arriving in London
The clipper service arriving in London

The view from the boat was much more impressive than a railway embankment or a motorway and we sailed under the iconic Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford, floated past the O2 and spotted St Paul's Cathedral and the London Eye.

The journey took one hour and 10 minutes to Embankment, so depending where you live and what route you normally take into the capital this service may or may not save you time.

But it was certainly a pleasant way to travel into London and definitely worth a try for comparison.


As you might expect, it wasn't as glamorous as the boat sounds.

The train from Gravesend station was waiting for me at the platform.

It started all quiet but further down the line it started to fill up until it was standing room only.

Instead of seeing people standing at the bar, I watched people unfold the newspapers from their bags and fix their eyes on their devices. Headphones went on as well.

The pilot runs until this Thursday
The pilot runs until this Thursday

Although the train was running on time, there was no bar serving hot and cold drinks, which were readily available on the clipper service.

Once I arrived at London Charing Cross it took two minutes to walk to Embankment Pier, where the boat docked.

I managed to make it in one hour and 15 minutes... but without the black coffee and scenic river views.


Sue Burrett
Sue Burrett

Sue Burrett, 54, a PA who lives in Gravesend, said: "I wanted to try out an alternative form of travel rather than my normal route, which is the Southeastern service into London Bridge.

"Door to door, if I walk to the station it's an hour and 45 minutes or if I drive it's about an hour and a half. It's about the same time on the boat if I get off at Tower Bridge.

"It's faster than I expected and it's comfortable and smooth. Plus you get to see a different part of the river that you normally never see. The wifi isn't working but I've been told it will be on the new boats if this service becomes permanent.

"Whether I use the service permanently would depend on the timetabling, and I'd prefer to go into London City Pier as that's a three minute walk from my work."

Tim Hollingsworth
Tim Hollingsworth

Tim Hollingsworth, 38, a buyer in IT from Gravesend, was certain he would use the service everyday.

He said: "I used to get the clipper from Surrey Quays when I lived there and it's a much better way to travel in my opinion. It was popular so you had to book but it was much less stressful than getting a train, particularly if you struggled to get a seat.

"I normally get the slow train to London Bridge and walk to St Paul's. With the boat I go into Blackfriars and it's even more convenient.

"I would 100% use this all the time and my wife would too when she goes back to work after having our children."

John Waddell
John Waddell

John Waddell, 53, an architect from Gravesend, said: “I just wanted to try it out as it seemed like a great idea. It’s really good. I’ve been on them before in central London and they’re great boats.

"I usually travel in on the High Speed and this it going to take a lot longer - about an hour and a half instead of 50 minutes. I don’t think I’d use it every day, more like a little treat on a Friday or something like that. But for somebody who works in Canary Wharf it would be ideal.

“I have noticed a few people on board who are usually on the fast train.”

Wendy Lee
Wendy Lee

Wendy Lee, 52, an IT project manager from Greenhithe, said: “It’s just a bit of a difference. There’s a nice view instead of a commute that’s a bit boring and where you don’t always get a seat.

"I’ve never been this far along the river before and it was exciting to try something different. I usually get the train to Cannon Street and it’s about the same time on the boat but I have a bit more of a walk at the end. It’s a nice part of the city though.

“I would definitely use this all the time. There’s a much better social atmosphere than on the trains - everyone is talking to each other. The cafe is lovely - I’m already thinking about a nice glass of wine on the way home.”

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