My Eurostar Gripes

Friday, 8th May 2009 at 8:00 UTC Leave a comment

After a post on train travel in the UK, I thought this might be a good follow up, spreading the horizons east into Europe. Eurostar is an excellent idea, but heavily under-developed. Bringing high-speed rail to London was a great idea, and now the embarrassment that was Waterloo International is fading into history, its probably time to move on a bit.

Increasingly the high speed lines of Europe are reaching over borders. Gone are the days when Paris-Lyon and Berlin-Hamburg were the projects countries threw money at. The next two major high speed innovations to open (unless I’m much mistaken) will be Brussels to Amsterdam and Brussels to Cologne, both of which will reduce journey times to around 1hr 30 between those cities by Christmas 2009.

Too few destinations

If we were, hypothetically speaking, to write out a list of all the major population centres in Europe and then look up how to get to them by train (using a list on Wikipedia and the German railways website, for instance) we would notice a very quickly emerging pattern: the 4 most popular cities you would need to make changes in would be Lille, Paris, Brussels and Cologne.

The most common change of trains would be between the Eurostar into Brussels and either the Thalys or ICE onwards to or through Cologne (more changes occur in France, but they vary in onward direction). A very very strong pattern emerges: London to Cologne must be the next step. And the incentive to do it right now?  The new line opening which would wipe another 50 minutes off the journey time and make the time taken changing trains even more noticeable.

The problem? The Eurostar platforms at Brussels aren’t through platforms, so they’d either need rebuilding, or a new “sealed platform” would need to be built. Due to the political climate, any train coming to Britain must only collect passengers from a platform that is security sealed to stop pesky immigrants reaching Britain and claiming asylum.

There would be an argument made that a sealed platform at Brussels and another at Cologne wouldn’t be used enough. But this would be a silly argument for one very simple reason: Marne le Vallee-Chessy (Disneyland Paris to the rest of us). It gets served by one train per day. And Avignon: one train per week for a few days each year.

A route to Cologne would be used maybe 3 times a day, rising to 5 once enough people figured its usefulness (check how many cities are a local train ride away). And with passengers joining Eurostar services at Lille Europe, it would get plenty of usage. And if the last train of the day could kindly arrive between 22:00 and 22:28…

Terrible Sleeper Connections

… it would make getting to Copenhagen, Warsaw (think how many Poles are in Britain) and Prague much much easier. The Snow Train run by Rail Europe is a great concept, if massively under developed: a weekly service to the French Alps involving a Eurostar and a direct connection at Paris Nord on a through ticket. When Eurostar first ran, there were plans for a “NightStar”, indeed, the trains sat dormant for years, but the aim was regional Britain to regional Benelux and Germany.

What would be more useful would be a guaranteed connection and through ticketing at Brussels or Cologne for sleeper trains for Hamburg and Berlin by breakfast, and Warsaw and Copenhagen, Prague and Vienna (via Nuremburg) in time for morning coffee. A connection at Lille to a sleeper for Milan and Turin, possibly Zurich or Bern as well, would also be nice.

Together, those routes would open up the entirety of the EU, as far as Budapest, Stockholm and Vilnius in under 24 hours, and hopefully encourage more people to stop flying to all these places. And this could be useful to people in Belgium and North Western France, and no extra border controls or other weirdness would be needed.

All in all, what’s needed isn’t a regional UK service, as was originally the plan, but a service further into Europe, with better night train connections and a bit of a rethink of Eurostar as a separate entity might make train a more attractive option for reaching Europe. The starting point would be an extension to Cologne.

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Entry filed under: Europe, Politics, Sustainability, Trains, Travel.

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