Go­ing DUTCH

[ europe by rail ]

The Business Travel Magazine - - The Review - Andy Hoskins

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

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