I used to wonder what would happen after the Eurostar Paris trains were diverted from the interim Waterloo International station to the new St Pancras and now we are beginning to see the answer. International commuters in their thousands are switching from short haul flights between the two capitals to the fast St Pancras service by Eurostar. Paris has of course been moved 20 minutes closer to London since November last year, but it’s also the higher price of aviation fuel which has driven people away from the troubled terminals at London’s airports. So the situation now on an early weekday morning is that the waiting areas at St Pancras station are chock a block with people heading to Paris in time for a full day’s worth of meetings.
The Times business observes:
The airline industry has been crushed by the price of kerosene and deserted by passengers fed up with delays. After decades of disappointment, false dawns and virtually bankrupt Channel Tunnels, we have finally arrived at the age of the train and the evidence is in the crowd at St Pancras.
Traffic growth on Eurostar increased by 21 per cent in the first quarter of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007, with growth in the second quarter supposedly at similar rates. So the combination of fuel prices, airport delays and the shaving of 20 minutes off the London-Paris Eurostar journey time has boosted income by 25 per cent according to The Times.
When the channel tunnel was first mooted in the 1980s, a lot of people were expecting a road tunnel they could drive through. More said they would be afraid to go into a long tunnel under the sea, and would stick with the ferries, though it was feared the ferry companies might be driven out of business by the new tunnel. The roll on roll off ferries from Dover are still running, providing cheap cross channel deals for slightly less urgent freight transport, but it’s the short hop airline routes between the south of England and the business cities in the North of France, Belgium and Holland which were always the main competiton for the Eurostar express trains, with their city centre to city centre advantage.
So the problem now is that the old award winning Waterloo terminal for Eurostar is closed while the new St Pancras Station is getting near to capacity already. So why didn’t they build it bigger or else plan to keep both running, giving travellers a choice between South and North London connection points for the Eurostar Paris trains?
I suppose the shortage of waiting areas at St Pancras might be eased when the Stratford International station comes into service, taking some of the strain for passengers heading for Paris breaks originating from East London and the City. I’ve heard it has already been built but can’t be opened because it’s in the middle of an Olympic Games 2012 building site.
If you’ve never been on a Eurostar Paris trip, here’s a longish video from youtube which gives a nice impression of what the journey is like.