Fast track to the continent
The Eurostar cross-Channel service may have removed much of the trip’s glamour but it has also removed much pain, writes Mark Irving
IT’S one of the most popular train trips on the planet.
A marvel of modern engineering, it connects two of the world’s great cities via the world’s longest undersea tunnel.
It’s called the Eurostar and in the past two decades more than 140 million passengers have jumped aboard this high-speed railway service linking London and Continental Europe in a journey that is shorter than many movies.
It’s changed the way Britons see themselves and the rest of Europe ( Eurostar carried 10 million passengers last year) and yet they said it would never be done.
Indeed, it took well over a century of diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing before Britain and France could agree to settle their differences and sink a tunnel under the English Channel.
Work started in 1988 and the result is a tunnel (or “Chunnel” as it is popularly called) that’s more than 50km long and which descends as deep as 75m beneath the seabed.
It opened in 1994, and November this year marks its 20th birthday.
Containing not one but three rail lines, the Eurostar service allows travellers from Britain fast access not only with Paris but other French cities such as Lille as well as ski resorts in the winter and summer resorts in the south of France plus Brussels, the capital of Belgium. It’s what train enthusiasts have long wanted but it’s not always been smooth training.
Breakdowns, a derailment and a couple of fires combined with poor punctuality did the service no favours in its early years and it struggled against low-cost airlines.
Today, the unreliability factor seems to be a distant bad memory and the range of fares available is certainly competitive. The lowest fare I could find late last year was a promotion of £54 return – about $100.
For a trip from Paris to London one Sunday last month I reserved a standard premier seat – the middle of the three standards on the service. I was advised to check in at least half an hour before the departure time, and there were no queues as I sped through ticket and border controls.
Maybe that was because the train appeared to be only half full. I settled into my comfortable single window seat, and it left on the dot of 3.13pm.
The ride was smooth, even as the train accelerated towards its