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Eurostar could be forced to stop running London-Amsterdam trains for almost a year in 2024

The incredible shrinking network: Brexit plus refurbishment could see the number of stations served by the cross-Channel train operator cut from 13 to four

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 07 June 2023 07:53 BST
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Related: Is the Eurostar train from London to Amsterdam a good deal? Simon Calder reports

On the day on which Eurostar’s final Disneyland Paris train from London departs, it emerged that the cross-Channel rail company could be forced to stop running trains from London to both Rotterdam and Amsterdam for almost a year because of work being carried out on the station in the Dutch capital.

Unless a solution can be found, it would see the Eurostar network reduced from a pre-Brexit total of 13 year-round stations to just four: London, Lille, Paris and Brussels.

At 10.34am on Monday, the final Eurostar “Disneyland Express” departed from London St Pancras International. The direct high-speed rail link to the heart of the theme park east of Paris has been running since 1996, except for a pause during the Covid crisis.

But Eurostar is now ending the service because of extra red tape brought in as a result of Brexit. The UK government negotiated for British passport holders to become “third-country nationals” – with a hard European Union frontier installed at St Pancras station for outbound passengers.

The design of the Eurostar London terminal never envisaged that checks would involve stamping passports – and, from next year, taking fingerprints and facial biometrics from UK travellers to the EU. These checks vastly increase the time taken for each passenger, and therefore the space needed.

Eurostar is capping passenger numbers on trains because of the sheer physical constraints of its terminals.

The extra bureaucracy arising from the decision to leave the European Union has led to the continued closure of two stations in Kent: Ebbsfleet and Ashford International. They shut down as the Covid pandemic took hold, but Eurostar will not reopen them until 2025 at the earliest – after the planned entry-exit system for the EU is implemented.

The direct train from London St Pancras to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille has been dropped. Calais-Frethun station, serving the French port, is also mothballed.

Mark Smith, the international rail expert known as The Man in Seat 61, called the ending of the Disneyland Paris link “another Brexit ‘benefit’ along with dropping calls at Ashford and Ebbsfleet”.

He said: “With increased border checks and consequently reduced terminal capacity, Eurostar are doubling down on their core routes until the full effects of the new EU Entry/Exit System are known.”

Separately, Eurostar’s four daily trains each way between London and Amsterdam could be suspended for 11 months next year as a result of work being undertaken on the historic Centraal station in the Dutch capital.

On Friday, the Dutch infrastructure minister, Vivianne Heijnen, said that planned large-scale renovation combined with the large amount of space required for pre-departure checks of British passengers could mean the Netherlands is cut off for 11 months – with potentially an extra 21 flights each way between Amsterdam and London.

The international train terminal is to be demolished, without its replacement being ready. The closure could last from June 2024 until the end of May 2025.

Eurostar launched the Amsterdam and Rotterdam service in 2018 and has carried 1.6 million passengers since then.

Rotterdam Centraal is not a financially viable option because only 160 passengers are allowed to board the train there due to post-Brexit constraints.

From 2036, Eurostar’s operation in the Dutch capital will be moved to the less convenient Amsterdam Zuid station.

Later on Monday, Eurostar’s chief executive, Gwendoline Cazenave, met with the Dutch infrastructure minister – with the hope that space in a subway beneath the station could allow the Eurostar service to continue during renovations.

A Eurostar initially spokesperson told The Independent: “We have been led to believe that the Eurostar Amsterdam-London route is at risk of being discontinued for an indefinite period as of April next year.

“The potential proposal to move the Dutch departure/arrival lounge from Amsterdam to Rotterdam is not viable due to capacity and safety reasons. Should this be the only option offered by the ministry, Eurostar Group will be left with no choice but to stop its Amsterdam-London route.”

However, following the meeting on Monday night with Dutch partners ProRail, NS and with the I&W Ministry in The Hague, Ms Cazenave sounded more optimistic about potentially finding a solution, saying: “We are pleased to continue discussions with our partners ProRail and NS in the Netherlands. We are convinced that together we will find a suitable solution to allow a direct service between Amsterdam, Rotterdam and London.

“Eurostar is fully committed to playing a role in the Dutch sustainability policy by continuing to offer a green travel alternative to its Dutch customers.”

Stations served year-round by Eurostar

Pre-Brexit

  • London
  • Ebbsfleet
  • Ashford International
  • Calais Frethun
  • Lille
  • Paris
  • Brussels
  • Rotterdam
  • Amsterdam
  • Lyon
  • Avignon
  • Marseille

Post-Brexit and potentially during renovation work at Amsterdam

  • London
  • Lille
  • Paris
  • Brussels

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