The 8.31am Amsterdam Express became a reality today. A special Eurostar train left London St Pancras International exactly on time, carrying the train operator’s staff, travel industry figures and media.
The train raced through Kent – where there have been calls for it to stop in Ebbsfleet or Ashford – and into the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone at 9.05am. It emerged exactly 20 minutes later, and sped through Calais and Lille, which are also omitted from the schedule.
The new London-Amsterdam train calls at Brussels-Midi, and indeed accelerates the best journey time from St Pancras to the Belgian capital to just 108 minutes.
While Eurostar has captured three-quarters of the market from London to both Brussels and Paris, the journey time to Amsterdam is around twice as long. Airlines have dismissed rail’s credibility as competition.
Amsterdam is the best-served continental city by air from London. And there is also a serious problem with the inbound Eurostar service. Until sometime next year, Amsterdam-London passengers are told to take a Thalys high-speed train to Brussels, and connect there for Eurostar.
A deal between the UK and the Netherlands on “juxtaposed border controls”, allowing British officials to check passports of passengers at Amsterdam and the intermediate step of Rotterdam, has not yet been finalised. So initially all passengers will need to clear security and passport control in Brussels.
One of the passengers on board was Tom Hall, editorial director of Lonely Planet travel guides.
“I travel to Amsterdam quite a lot, because there are a number of big travel companies based there. I will definitely be taking this train out. But I won’t necessarily be taking it back, until I can get a direct train.
“The stop in Brussels slows you down. The question is how important is speed versus the pleasure of taking the train.”
Nicolas Petrovic, chief executive of Eurostar said: “You don’t hop on a plane. You have to get to the airport, wait to check in, wait, wait wait. You’re not long in the air but you can’t do anything. On the train it’s your time.
“You can enjoy the trip from the moment you depart.”
South of Antwerp, the train got caught in congestion with regular domestic services, but still arrived ahead of time at Rotterdam Centraal – covering the distance from London in just under three hours.
Simone Sagi, of the Netherlands Board of Tourism in London, said: “We hope it will bring more tourists to Rotterdam.”
The second Dutch city is more vibrant and architecturally dramatic than Amsterdam, and also has poor air connections from the UK. A three-hour rail link is likely to prove popular with business travellers as well as city-breakers. And for the journey home, there is a retro option: taking the Rotterdam Metro to Hook of Holland, and an overnight ferry from there to Harwich in Essex.
The Eurostar train travels via Schiphol airport, but does not stop there. Today’s service arrived on platform 15 of Amsterdam Central Station three minutes behind schedule.
Commercial services begin on 4 April. There will be departures at 8.31am from London daily except Sundays, and at 5.31pm daily except Saturdays.
Fares start at £35 each way.
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