Yesterday Eurostar launched their inaugural scheduled services to Rotterdam & Amsterdam and yours truly naturally had to be on the first departure at 08.31.
The big cameras were out in force, Eurostar were handing out Dutch & Union Jack flags as well as free waffle cookies and there was a general celebratory mood. Mike Cooper, CEO of Eurostar, was even in attendance chatting to passengers during the trip.
So will Eurostar’s bold new initiative take off as hoped and give the airlines a run for their money as they have done so successfully with the Paris, Lille & Brussels routes?
The route took a tad over 3 hours to get to Rotterdam where I alighted, 40 minutes longer to get to Netherland’s premier city.
Fares start from a very reasonable £35 each way, but there is currently a fly in the ointment in as much as the direct service is only one way at this stage, with the return journey necessitating a stop and train change (from Thalys to Eurostar) in Brussels for passport control purposes. This means the return will currently take 4 1/2 hours or longer.
Mr Cooper is hopeful that the Dutch authorities will eventually play ball and allow full passport control at Amsterdam & Rotterdam to enable the through return train to operate, but the clever money is that this is highly unlikely to happen before well into 2019 at the earliest.
Departures from St Pancras are currently twice daily leaving at 8.31 & 17.31 with plenty more return options, as you can see below.
For the time rich and those that love train travel this is a huge hit, even taking into account the train change for the return journey. I positively loved the experience yesterday as we whizzed through Flanders and past the Dutch bulb fields on the super fast Eurostar e320 capable of speeds of 200 mph, making London to Brussels doable in around 1 3/4 hours.
If you factor in the hassle free security controls (liquids are fine and you can even take your take-away coffee with you!), plus within reason there are far fewer luggage restrictions, and you really start to wonder “what’s not to like?”
However, for this to work long-term Eurostar presumably needs business travellers as well as leisure seekers. The London – Amsterdam route is especially well catered for airline wise and with Schiphol Airport conveniently connected to Amsterdam Centraal by fast train taking only 17 minutes, I personally think Eurostar will have their work cut out.
For example, easyJet have 8 return flights a day from Gatwick and 6 from Luton as well as plenty of other options throughout the UK. You an easily get day return for around £40 too.
If you compare this with the not quite so well served Paris where flights cost 2-3 times as much and train times from Charles de Gaulle are over 30 minutes and Orly about 45 minutes (when the trains run that is!) and you can start to see why Eurostar to Paris is pretty compelling for business and leisure travellers alike.
There are longer airline check in times to also factor in of course, but for me personally Gatwick is only 30 minutes away, whilst St Pancras is three times that, necessitating a 5 am wake up yesterday.
By the nature of the fact that the train station is in central London and Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Southend etc. are in the provinces, I suspect this is a similar story for millions of people living in the South East.
Rotterdam could actually be a bigger winner out of this, with it being far less well served than Amsterdam flight wise, but even then a train from Schiphol to Rotterdam Centraal takes only 20 minutes and has frequent services.
Rotterdam itself makes for a pleasant day out with its interesting architecture, lively old port, picturesque canals and decent bars, restaurants & shopping. I won’t be flocking back though unless I attend the excellent North Sea Jazz Festival held in July each year.
As a lover of train journeys, I wish Eurostar every success with the venture and hope it remains as an option on an ongoing basis. I will be seeing you again in May for the 6 1/2 trip from London to Marseille and I cannot wait!