The rising star


Having carried over ten million passengers since its launch in November 1994, Eurostar can truly be said to have revolutionised travel to Continental Europe. Never before has travel to the Continent been so easy, with the three capitals of London, Brussels and Paris now within a short travelling time of each other.

If it was the French high speed trains (TGVs) which first established the viability of rail transport against the air alternative, it was the construction of the Channel Tunnel which enabled the benefits of rail to be extended to the international market in one of the most densely populated areas of Europe. With the convenience of city centre to city centre journeys and the attractiveness of on-board service, space and freedom of movement, rail is not only competing effectively with air and road but is expanding the market as Londoners, Parisians and Bruxellois come to appreciate how easy it is to travel to their sister cities for work or pleasure.

New owners

The Eurostar service is operated jointly by Eurostar (UK) Ltd, French Railways (SNCF) and Belgian Railways (SNCB). Eurostar (UK) Ltd, formerly known as European Passenger Services, was formed as a subsidiary of British Rail and later transferred to direct government ownership prior to privatisation. London & Continental Railways Ltd (LCR) won the competition for the ownership of Eurostar (UK) Ltd in February 1996 and took over on 1 June that year. Since then, LCR has strengthened Eurostar's management team in many areas, not least in marketing where a vigorous marketing campaign has resulted in a rapid growth in passenger numbers.

New timetable

With its new timetable starting this June, Eurostar now runs 26 trains daily in each direction. There are 17 to Paris, eight to Brussels and a further daily train direct to Disneyland Paris, where the station at Marne La Vallée is located outside the gates of the popular theme park. Standard journey times are three hours to Paris and 3h 15min to Brussels, with some non-stop London-Paris services covering the 307 miles in only 2h 54min. Some trains serve the intermediate stations at Ashford, Calais Frethun and Lille.

Ashford in Kent has reaped the benefits of the 'Eurostar effect', as increasing numbers of travellers are drawn to the town to use the fast and frequent services, with corresponding benefits to the local economy. Ashford is useful for people in an extensive catchment area, not only in central Kent, but also from a wide area of southeast England, including the M25 belt, where the terminal may be more easily accessible than Waterloo.

New Premium First service

Eurostar's latest marketing initiatives are designed to enhance the service provided for the discerning business traveller. On 28 April 1997, Premium First, Eurostar's new top-of-the-range service, was launched on the London-Paris route. The Premium First service provides a ten-minute check in (down from an already brisk 20 minutes for other passengers), use of the Eurostar lounges in London and Paris, superior on-board service in dedicated accommodation including three choices of menu and fine wines, and a taxi to destinations within central Paris and London. Moreover, tickets are interchangeable with British Midland's Diamond EuroClass in the unlikely event of there not being a return Eurostar service at a convenient time.

This type of service is aimed not only at the business traveller but also at the wealthier type of tourist, and Eurostar passengers come from every country in the world, including large numbers of Americans and Japanese. Moreover, many individuals have come to use Eurostar for special occasions such as birthdays and wedding anniversaries, so a trip in Premium First is likely to appeal to those looking for something extra special.

New fare bargains

Despite Eurostar's push for premium rated business, it remains a train for everyone, and there are always a number of bargain deals for day trips and short breaks. Moreover, Eurostar is expanding its service offer beyond the three capital cities. An extra £10 to the Brussels return fare will take the traveller to any station in Belgium, and there is a 'flat fare' principle operating to Holland with midweek fares starting from as little as £69 to any Dutch station. Eurostar has recently introduced promotional fares to a number of cities in Germany, both to the popular tourist areas such as the Rhineland and to less obvious places in the north of the country where British service personnel are based.

Most well developed of all the 'beyond Eurostar' markets are the connections available at Lille, which improve with every new timetable. By crossing the footbridge to waiting French domestic TGVs, passengers can bypass Paris and travel to the south and west of France in a matter of a few extra hours. Lyon, for example, is 5h 20min away and Bordeaux eight hours. Other direct services go to Marseilles, Nice and Brittany.

Eurostar and the future

Still to come later in 1997 are direct Eurostar services from the British regions (Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Birmingham) and, before Christmas, through ski train services to Bourg St Maurice in the French Alps. Also expected to open in December is the Belgian portion of the high speed line, which will reduce the London-Brussels journey time to around 2h 40min. Further into the future are the British Channel Tunnel Rail Link from St. Pancras to Folkestone, which will give further time savings of 35-40 min from 2003, and the completion of the Brussels-Amsterdam and Brussels-Cologne high speed routes around 2005 - 2006. The revolution in European rail travel is far from complete, but the seeds have been sown and are growing vigorously. The good news is that we will all reap the benefits.