Passengers poised for swifter rail trip

13th November 2007, Comments 0 comments

13 November 2007, LONDON - A new era of high-speed international rail travel starts Wednesday, when the first passengers flood through a new Eurostar terminal here as part of London-Paris trips 20 minutes quicker than before.

13 November 2007

LONDON - A new era of high-speed international rail travel starts Wednesday, when the first passengers flood through a new Eurostar terminal here as part of London-Paris trips 20 minutes quicker than before.

The 306 mile (492 kilometre) ride will now take two hours 15 minutes, while travellers at the London end will also pass through Saint Pancras, a new, painstakingly-restored 19th century terminal updated with all mod cons.

The 5.8 billion pound (8.4 billion euro, 12 billion dollar) transformation comes following the completion of a 68 mile section of high-speed line on the British side.

While the French part of the journey passed in a blur ever since the Channel Tunnel which links the countries opened in 1994, speeds in Britain were limited before the construction of the new track, held up amid financial problems.

As well as quicker journeys between London, Paris and Brussels, the other main difference travellers will notice will be the switch in stations from Waterloo in south London to Saint Pancras in the north.

Waterloo, named after an 1815 battle in which Britain defeated French leader Napoleon Bonaparte, is architecturally uninspiring and crowded, with cramped waiting rooms and two tiny cafes providing scant welcome.

Saint Pancras, red-brick Gothic revival masterpiece, which only a few years ago was crumbling into disrepair, has been restored to its former glory with new additions including the world's longest champagne bar and chic boutiques.

"A 21st century station will be replacing a station from the 1980s," said Guillaume Pepy, chairman of Eurostar, whose advertisements highlighting the switch carried the slogan "Forget Waterloo".

Queen Elizabeth II launched the luxurious new terminal last week, accompanied by a state-of-the-art light show and classical music from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

The transformation of Saint Pancras has also mirrored the regeneration of the surrounding area of King's Cross.

Up until very recently, King's Cross was a by-word for drug deals and prostitution, but now it is undergoing a renaissance, attracting stylish bars and restaurants plus big-name employers including the Guardian newspaper.

Following a short ceremony, the last train from Waterloo to Paris is due to leave Tuesday at 1809 GMT and the first train from Paris to Saint Pancras will arrive Wednesday at 1109 GMT.

In Britain, where the railways are seen as something of a national joke due to frequent overcrowding and delays, the opening of the new Saint Pancras terminal is being viewed as a dual opportunity.

As well as making the trip easier for existing customers, Eurostar hopes it will open up train travel to continental Europe to people living in central and northern England and Scotland.

They will be able to link up directly to Eurostar services through the new Saint Pancras hub.

The firm is also hoping that it will help entice travellers away from flying between London and Paris and Brussels, often on the low-cost airlines which have revolutionised the way Britons fly short-haul in recent years.

Recent advertisements warn travellers that the length of time they spent waiting at the airport may be as long as the flight itself.

Eurostar says that more than a million people had booked to travel on the new high-speed service a week before the grand launch.

AFP

Subject: French news

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