[ europe by rail ]
The 08.31 Eurostar departure from London St Pancras on February 20 wasn’t any old Eurostar service – this was a one-off preview of its new service to Amsterdam.
Tulips lined the platform and Dutch flags were waved as a handful of photographers and TV crews captured the occasion. After many delays, the service was finally on track.
Onboard were more TV crews and journalists from national newspapers in the UK and Netherlands, as well as travel trade and rail industry press. Accompanying us was a glut of Eurostar staff – including CEO Nicolas Petrovic – all hoping the journey would pass smoothly and without incident.
And so it proved. Breakfast was served soon after departure, followed thereafter by a series of talks from Eurostar staff on the merits of the new service and its refreshed product. First came a presentation and tasting of its new catering for the service, including Dutch produce such as cold meats, cheeses and stroopwafels. Next was a talk about the technology provision, including wifi and an onboard entertainment portal. And then we took it in turns to join the driver in the cab (strictly no talking to him!) as we scudded through the countryside.
The wifi worked well and I managed to get some work done too. And then suddenly, out of the window, we spotted planes descending into Amsterdam Schiphol Airport and the train was pulling into Amsterdam Centraal Station.
The journey, three hours and 41 minutes, had passed quickly and comfortably – it is a wonderful way to travel. But will it really take marketshare from the airlines? And surely not to the same extent as its services from London to Paris and Brussels have?
This one-off service, like the one that commences on April 4, stopped only twice en route. First in Brussels, which was reached in a new fastest time (1h48m) due to the omission of a stop in Lille, and then in Rotterdam (3h1m). Its twice-daily service will depart from St Pancras at 08.31 and 17.31.
We spent an hour in Amsterdam – enough time to visit Eurostar’s passenger facility at the station and for a wander down the Damrak avenue in the bitter cold – before embarking on the return journey. And it is this leg that poses a bit of a problem.
First we boarded a Thalys train bound for Brussels, where we disembarked, passed through security and passport control and then boarded a Eurostar service. This will be the arrangement until the end of 2019 at the latest, when Dutch and UK authorities should have a more convenient arrangement in place. The change in Brussels adds around an hour to the return journey, giving an overall time of around 4.5 hours.
It is not ideal, particularly for time-poor business travellers. Simon Calder, the Independent travel journalist, documented his return journey by air from Schiphol to Gatwick. Eurostar travels from city centre to city centre – one of its big advantages – and Calder's journey, incorporating two airport transfers and a flight, was 3hrs 44mins, despite spending only 50 minutes in the air.
His conclusion? “It’s been an awkward and stressful journey and frankly I’m frazzled. Even with the Brussels bother, let the train take the strain.”
In an age of traveller centricity and focus on wellbeing, it will be interesting to see if the service strikes a chord with those doing business in the Netherlands.
hops onboard the new Eurostar service from London St Pancras to Amsterdam