London to Bordeaux in seven hours on new French railway

CHRISTIAN WOLMAR

Transport Correspondent

The creation of an integrated Europe-wide high-speed rail network moved a little closer yesterday with the announcement of the start of a range of new cross-border services.

SNCF, the French state railway, announced the launch from 2 June of a new high-speed service linking Paris with Brussels and Amsterdam. The trains will take just over two hours to the Belgian capital, cutting 40 minutes off the existing times and making it much more competitive with air travel. Amsterdam will take four and three-quarter hours from Paris. However, when the Belgian high-speed line is completed in 1998, Paris- Brussels will take just one hour 25 minutes.

A red and grey fleet of trains, under the Thalys brand, has been introduced which can be used on French, Belgian and Dutch railways even though they have different electrical systems. A train which can also run to Cologne in Germany, which uses yet another voltage, is being introduced in 1998.

SNCF hopes that within 10 years most of the large conurbations of north- west Europe will be linked by high-speed trains running at 300kph (186mph) on dedicated lines and 220kph (136mph) on upgraded conventional lines.

The 2 June launch date also sees the completion of the rail by-pass round Paris which opens the way for British travellers on Eurostar to reach cities on the TGV Atlantique line, such as Bordeaux and Nantes, with just one change at Lille. Bordeaux is five hours from Lille, while Nantes is just under four hours.

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