Yesterday, the new Eurostar station at Ebbsfleet in north Kent was unveiled by Eurostar. At the same time, they have announced that Ashford International Station, in southern Kent, will lose all of its direct services to Brussels, and all but three to Paris and one to Disneyland. This has been met with dismay by the London-centric press, and by people living in south Kent, who complain they will now have to travel 34 miles to Ebbsfleet if they want trains at different times. Others have suggested this will turn Ashford into a “ghost town”.
Eurostar have also announced that they won’t start to use their other new station, at Stratford in east London, until 2009 or 2010, partly due to it being in the middle of the building site for the 2012 Olympic Games.
People living in south London similarly complained when it was announced that Eurostar will be closing their Waterloo terminal when the new terminal opens at St Pancras, complaining that this would mean a journey by tube to reach the new station.
For people living outside London and the south-east, this seem like a joke. The plans to run Eurostar trains north of London were scrapped long ago, and the sleeper cars that were to be operated sold off. The rest of us have to travel into London if we want to take the Eurostar. I don’t think people in Birmingham or Manchester (2 hours from London and then the tube) or Glasgow (5 hours+) are going to worry about people from Ashford or south London having a 35-minute journey to catch trains to Europe.
When I first saw that the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link would have two additional stations between St Pancras and Ashford, I wondered whether the extra stops would cancel out a large proportion of the time gained by having a faster line. Now it seems the trains won’t normally stop at all the stations, which means faster journey times – which will be welcomed by those who’ve already had to travel down from the Midlands or the North.
It does seem that Eurostar’s next move is likely to be the cancellation of services from Ashford International altogether. One thing I am slightly uneasy with is shutting down new stations after only a few years of service. Waterloo International station opened in 1994 at a cost of £130 million, and will now be closing after only 13 years. This seems a big waste of money (and of acclaimed architecture by Nicholas Grimshaw), but reflects the difficulties and inefficiency of undertaking an engineering project such as a new railway line in the UK (France’s high speed line opened at the same time as the Channel Tunnel). St Pancras is a great station and the Eurostars should have been there from the start. But the slow planning process made this impossible, so Waterloo had to be used instead.
Ashford International opened in 1996 at a cost of £100 million. It’s unlikely to be closed altogether as some domestic services do operate from there, and from 2009 high-speed commuter trains will run from Ashford to St Pancras. That will be convenient for the people who live in southern Kent as they can then change trains at St Pancras if they want to travel to Paris or Brussels!