Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On the Twenty-First Century Limited London-Paris

Why fly to the Continent when there's Eurostar, the channel tunnel train?  Central London to central Paris in three hours in comfort and with minimal hassle:  It's a no-brainer. 

OK, it's not the elegant service it was 15-16 years ago.  My wife and I took Eurostar in the 90s when it was new and operated from Waterloo. We somehow snagged a discounted First Class fare. The service seemed luxurious then, as well as fast. Our trip recently from London to Paris was in "Standard" class and much more akin to a bus service, with nothing luxurious about it. 

Nothing wrong with that, though. In fact almost every seat was filled, a credit to its operating "above the rail" profitability and a model for Amtrak to emulate, if it ever can.  

(Capital costs for the Channel tunnel and the trainsets themselves have been written off or absorbed. Both the Eurostar London-Paris and London-Brussels and the Thalys TGV-like service Paris-Brussels-Cologne-Amsterdam are profitable on an operating basis.

In fact I've been told today's frequent and cheap Eurostar service has created a whole new class of commuters.  There are folks who now live in the Paris suburbs who use Eurostar to get to work in London.

Amazingly, we paid $63 one way for each of three tickets and $45 one way for our daughter's ticket (she is 9).  It's a great bargain and far better than flying despite the slight hassle of security and passport control at London's St. Pancras Station--still far faster than at any airport. 

We pre-purchased nonrefundable tickets online which I printed at home. The barcode opened the security barrier for us at the DIY gate at St. Pancras. All very well thought-out and efficient. Here's what the boarding area looks like at St. Pancras--comfortable and clean: 

When our train was announced on the departure board, the gate and escalator opened automatically, and we found our car easily, as the car numbers are printed on the platform opposite the doors.  Here are photos of the boarding process:

Once on board, there is plenty of overhead space and at the ends of cars for stowing luggage.  We chose four seats (in advance, online) in the center of the car facing each each other with a table in the middle:

The train operated dead on time. Pretty soon after exiting London, we were flying towards the tunnel.  I went to the cafe car and bought a half bottle of Champagne to enhance the experience (we were, after all, on vacation).  The cafe car is nothing fancy--really more like a standard Amtrak cafe car now--but it was clean, well-maintained, and the selections were decent and the Champagne cold (and even reasonably priced):

Out of the tunnel we accelerated to well over 150 MPH through the French countryside.  My wife and I sipped our Champagne and enjoyed the scenery on a rare sunny day in France.  

At times our Eurostar reached 300 km/h, or 188 mph, which is achieved on the "LGV Nord" between the channel and the northern outskirts of Paris. (LGV refers to the tracks: High Speed Line in French).  It was an incredibly smooth ride, too. 

I even bought two carnets of 10 Paris Metro tickets each in the cafe car when purchasing a pizza for our kids.  Saved a lot of time at Gare du Nord.  

Pretty soon we were slowing for the Paris burbs, and grabbing our bags for disembarking.  I was amazed at how fast the trip seemed--because it was fast.  

In decades past I had occasion to commute between London and Paris on job assignments, but it was an all-day ordeal then: a (not very fast) train to Dover; a (very slow) ferry boat to Calais across the choppy, cold, dreary English Channel; another (not very speedy) train to Paris.  It wasn't cheap, either.  

Eurostar was a great way to travel for fun with the kids, of course, but I couldn't help marveling at how it's been perfected into a fantastic business tool since I traveled on it in the 1990s.  It's the ideal mode now for professionals to use between London and Paris, and between London and EU headquarters in Brussels: inexpensive, frequent, reliable, no hassle.  It's a business model we need to import to the United States.


Anonymous Jeremy said...

Minor correction, the Eurostar's top speed (London-Paris) is 300 km/h or 188 mph, which is achieved on the "LGV Nord" between the channel and the northern outskirts of Paris. (LGV refers to the tracks - High Speed Line in French.)

The only TGV line that can reach 350 km/h (220 mph) is the service along the "LGV Est" (east) going towards Strasbourg, Germany. However for economic and rolling stock reasons that is being limited to 320 km/h (200 mph) in actual service today.

The LGV Nord service, including Eurostar, will eventually increase from 300 to 320 with new rolling stock, but will never reach 350 due to that line's profile.

4/18/2013 6:40 PM  
Blogger bacov said...

My wife and I, Florida residents, took the London-Brussels train several years ago en route to Liege to spend a week with our former high school age youth exchange "daughter." She had told us several weeks earlier what to do, she met us at the Brussels station, and we then promptly caught the train to Liege for an enjoyable week with her family.

European high school exchange students, when spending their year in the U.S., are typically struck by our need for autos for getting around. At home, they routinely walk, or ride bikes, buses, and trains for transportation and are puzzled by our lack of daily use of these. But to your point about Eurostar, it was a great experience (wish I'd thought of the champagne) and it's too bad we can't travel like that in the U.S.

When the possibility was studied in recent years of the federal government paying for much of a high speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa, it's my understanding Gov. Scott said "no thanks" in 2011 because of overly optimistic rider projections, the probability of initial cost overruns, as well as annual operating deficits to be paid by Forida residents.

Yes, it's a great business model....except for the economics. Maybe I'll just have to wait on the champagne until I've arrived, by car.

4/19/2013 2:38 PM  
Blogger hulananni said...

"It's a business model we need to import to the United States." Indeed!

4/19/2013 2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We recently took the Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam and it was wonderful. We bought first class tickets on line months in advance for a great price. Enjoyed a meal, snacks and beverages in very comfortable seats. Wish we had any sort of train service in Phoenix!!!

4/19/2013 3:28 PM  
Blogger Phil at the Beach said...

Thanks for the great update about the train service, Mr. Allen. I will definitely give it a try in the future. Keep up the great work!

4/21/2013 3:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Suuuurrrre it's a good business model.

Almost anything will qualify as a good business model if you can get somebody else to write off or absorb all of the capital costs.

As a Florida resident, I commend Governor Scott for refusing to help finance the Orlando-Tampa boondoggle.

4/21/2013 6:14 PM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

Many thanks to reader Jeremy for posting a comment that provided the correct Eurostar speed data. I changed the post to reflect his information. Much obliged, Jeremy.

4/22/2013 2:00 PM  

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