Fewer stops: faster Eurostar for the rest of us

Eurostars at Waterloo International Station. Photo by en-Wikipedia user WillkmYesterday, 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.

The newly restored St Pancras station, home of Eurostar from 2007Ashford 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!

9 responses to “Fewer stops: faster Eurostar for the rest of us”

  1. Joseph Siddall

    Move to Ebbsfleet is good news for those of us from north of the evil metropolopse – saves the drive down to Ashford, (provided that parking is adequate, of course). Travelling into London by train was never an option. Shame about Waterloo and Ashford stations, though. Just need Eurotunnel to relocate to somewhere more convenient now, (living in Lincoln, Newark or Doncaster would suit me), and were away. I shall not hold my breat though.

  2. Amy

    The carpark built at at Ebbsfleet is developed by LCR. They are to provide up to 9,000 parking spaces of which 3,000 will be for cars and available to passengers.

    Ebbsfleet saves significant amounts in journey time. A trip to and from St Pancras of around 15 minutes, journey time from Gravesend is currently around 50 minutes.

    Ebbsfleet International station is strategically located near Gravesend in Kent, close to Junction 2 of the M25 and the M20, M2 and A2 routes and Bluewater shopping centre. Ebbsfleet Valley a new town between Bluewater shopping centre and Ebbsfleet International station, also local for Dartford.

  3. Mark Kober-Smith

    I am not sure what the point of Ebbsfleet is. Is anyone really suggesting that people there could not get into London to get to St Pancras? Is anyone really suggesting that people will choose to get on there more than they do at Ashford?
    I agree that services should go north of London, but is the answer to shut down Ashford and have three London stations; St Pancras, Stratford and Ebbsfleet?
    Now Kent will have what it feared; a fast line passing through it without the benefit of a station it can use?
    Eurostar admits it could stop at all stations but would then be a bit slower. Why not do that and serve lots of people, many of whom actually believed that if you spend hundreds of millions on stations they should be used…..
    Basically Eurostar do not know how to run a railroad

  4. Frankie

    A simple solution would be to offer an express service from St Pancras to Europe, going non stop to Belgium an France for the benefit of business/frequent travellers.

    The second alternative, would be to provide a regular service from St Pancras, that will serve all stations from Stratford, Ebbsfleet, Ashford, Folkestone and Dover. This would enable travellers/commutters to benefit from a regular service from London/Kent/Europe and also serve familes for package holidays going both ways.

    Failure to adopt such a sheme will seriously undermine the true meaning of regeneration!

  5. ray

    All I want to do is to get on a train in the West Midlands, probably Birmingham and arrive somewhere across the English Channel without changing trains. Been on loads of these sites for hours, can`t get the information easily, hit by political arguments and innuendoes on every site. Don`t know, or care where Ashford, Ebbsfleet or Stratford is. Just tell me the time to catch the train , how long it will take and options of arrival.

    Probably easier to get the info from EasyJet and go with them somewhere.

  6. Jonathan

    The point is, plans for Eurostars from the Midlands or other regions were scrapped ages ago. So people in south London complaining that they now have to cross the city to catch the Eurostar are unlikely to find sympathy from those in the Midlands who have a much longer journey to St Pancras.

    If you go by Easyjet, you still have to travel to and from the airport at each end, and then face the long security checks and three-hour check-in. And you’ll need to use the Easyjet website and the national rail website to organise the parts of your journey.

    Go to http://www.eurostar.com and you can search for a through journey from Birmingham to Paris. Simple!

  7. Joseph Siddall

    Further to my 2006 post, it seems that Lincoln will shortly have a direct rail link to London St Pancras, (rather than Kings Cross as we thought). That means we can board a train in Lincoln, get off at St Pancras, walk down the concourse and board Eurostar. Dreams do come true.

    Fly to France ? Why ?

  8. Richard M

    The irony is that the two Channel coasts are the least well-connected with each other, with very few trains stopping either at Ashford or Calais and none stopping at both. The solution would be to extend a regular Javelin service to Calais or Lille calling at Ashford and Ebbsfleet.

    The other thing the author fails to appreciate is that many people take a connecting train to Ashford to connect into the Eurostar, not simply live at Ashford itself. If passengers from places such as Hastings had to travel up to St Pancras to catch the Eurostar, this journey would take 2 – 2.5 hours, longer than from London to Paris! The likely response would be to say “s*d it” and catch a plane from Gatwick instead.

  9. Jonathan Rawle

    Thanks for commenting on a 10 year old article! Eurostar has only ever been interested in running a “three capitals” service. It isn’t supposed to be a local stopping service for people on either side of the channel. It would have been possible for other companies to introduce different services through the tunnel, such as a local service between Ashford and Calais, but all the passport and immigration controls make that impossible. Not that I have any sympathy for the people of Kent, given that nearly 60% of them voted to leave the EU.

    I still see no reason why people in Kent should receive special treatment, just because they happen to be closer to France as the crow flies. If they have to make a lengthy journey into London to catch a Eurostar train, it’s only what people from every other part of the country have to do.

    As for people in Hastings taking 2 hours to reach St Pancras (the National Rail planner actually says 1:45 for most journeys) it similarly takes 1.5 hours to reach Gatwick!

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