It has been over a dozen years since Eurostar initiated direct passenger rail linking London with Brussels and Paris. In that time, the train has become the preferred choice for crossing between Britain and the Continent — more popular than either channel ferries or travel by air. Now, with new high-speed track between London and the coast cutting at least 20 minutes off travel times, the under-sea shuttle promises to be more popular than ever.
The skinny on the project is High Speed 1 (HS1), a 68-mi/109-km fast track formerly called the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. Over a decade in the making, the line will enable Eurostar to sustain speeds of up to 186-mph/300-km/h. In practical terms that means London to Paris Gare du Nord in two-and-a-quarter hours; Brussels and other points in even less. Also, for the first time, early morning trains will enable UK business travelers to reach Paris, Brussels or Lille in time to do a full day’s work.
At the head of the line, Eurostar will trade its Waterloo terminus near London’s South Bank for the brilliantly restored St. Pancras Station in King’s Cross. St. Pancras, together with neighboring King’s Cross and Euston Stations, will form a transport nexus befitting 21c London. Beginning in November, high-speed Eurostar trains will converge with six Underground (Tube) lines and trains from Edinburgh, Newcastle, Brighton and the east coast.
HS1 promises to be a boon for south-east suburban passengers looking to avoid the nasty slog into London.
The new station at Ebbsfleet, scheduled to open within days of November’s HS1 kickoff, will incorporate a long-term car park and will be served by high-frequency shuttles to local railway stations and to the nearby Bluewater shopping centre. A second station at Stratford is due to come on line in time for the 2012 Olympics, while the existing station at Ashford will continue to serve international passengers.
High-speed service from London is not limited to Paris and Brussels. Depending upon one’s departure point, a day in Calais — with its bargain shopping and authentic bistros — is an hour’s journey or less. Minutes away are Lille — a historic urbanity with a young and cosmopolitan flavor — and Disneyland Resort Paris. Seasonal runs hit the Alpine slopes in winter and escape to sunny Provence in summer.
The Eurostar experience begins at the station. Long delays associated with air travel are replaced by fast, secure check-in procedures. Departure lounges offer a range of airport-style services and amenities. Once onboard, customized coaches cater to the separate needs of executive and pleasure travelers and all coaches benefit from spacious layouts and comfortable seating. Service levels range from economy-fare travel to a variety of first class options.
Speed, convenience and comfort are just part of the overall Eurostar experience. An independent study has shown that air passengers generate ten times greater greenhouse gas emissions than travelers who choose high-speed rail. And, thanks to HS1, Eurostar is committed to achieving “carbon neutrality” by reducing carbon dioxide emmissions by 25% by 2012.
Eurostar HS1 service commences Wednesday, 14 November 2007, but first day tickets are sold out so if you haven’t already booked your travel you’ll need to adjust your plans (trains will continue to serve Waterloo through 13 November). For complete travel details, and to book Eurostar travel online, visit http://www.traintraveling.com/eurostar