Posts Tagged ‘Eurostar’

Channel Tunnel, Thatcher’s muddle

Friday, 12 September 2008

Suspension of services notice on the Eurostar website

(click on image to go to the Eurostar website)

If one was superstitiously minded, one might think the BTWT editorial team clairvoyant. On Thursday 4 September, we announced that our services would be temporarily suspended and we carried an illustration of a train stopped by water on the track. A week later, Eurostar announced that the UK’s most famous train service, which normally goes under water, is suspended by a fire in a lorry on the Euroshuttle freight service. Of course, this is only a coincidence.

For 130 years, from 1856 to 1986, the idea of a railway link under the channel was promoted. It met with official hostility and indifference. There were actually two attempts to build the tunnel in 1881 and 1974. The 1881 attempt was linked to Sir Edward Watkin’s plan for a high speed railway route from Manchester to the continent. The 1974 attempt was a government funded project which was still primarily a link between the railways of Britain and France.

BTWT is apolitical and does not care a toss about party politics. However, we do not hesitate to name politicians who play an important role in shaping transport policy. When the idea of building the Channel Tunnel was revived again in 1981, it was Mrs Thatcher who insisted that it’s main purpose was to be a shuttle for road vehicles. The extra size of the tunnel’s main bores, to accommodate road lorries carried on special rail vehicles, added considerable to the project’s cost and complexity. While the tunnel itself received no public funds, two massive motorways, the M20 and M2, were cut through the South Downs to funnel road traffic to the tunnel’s shuttle terminals.

These political decisions left Eurotunnel with a large bank debt and a preference for running its own shuttle services for lorries rather than providing paths for freight trains. An Anglo-French safety commission only allows a limited number of certified railway vehicles to run through the tunnel. The result of all of these constraints, and the withdrawal of UK-French government subsidies, is that the Channel Tunnel’s full potential to carry rail freight has never been realised, and that only a handful of freight trains work through the tunnel.

The total cost of yesterday’s fire in the Channel Tunnel will run into hundreds of millions of pounds. It’s ironic that the three fires that closed the Channel Tunnel (on 18 November 1996, 21 August 2006 and 11 September 2008) all took place in road vehicles, or more specifically the HGV lorries, whose carriage by the tunnel shuttle Mrs T had insisted upon. It’s also unfortunate that Eurostar, the high speed train operator between England and France that has been doing so well, will be taking a hit from a disaster on an operation – the Eurotunnel Shuttle – over which it has no control or influence.

UK Government dithers about fast rail

Sunday, 27 July 2008

St Pancras (Eurostar) Station in rush hour.
Photo Daniel Berehulak/Getty/The Guardian

(click on picture for original context)

9 July 2008

East Coast Railway Line

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether she plans to introduce a high speed rail network on the East Coast.

Mr. Tom Harris: The Secretary of State invited Network Rail to begin work to develop longer-term options for the railway network. As part of this, on 23 June 2008 Network Rail announced a strategic review of the case for new rail lines. It will consider five of Network Rail’s strategic routes, north and west of London: Chiltern, East Coast, West Coast, Great Western and Midland Main Lines. It is too early to say what the results of this study will be or where any potential new lines might go. The study is expected to be complete in July 2009.

Still I suppose that it’s a small step forward from Tom Harris saying that High Speed Railways were not green enough to be built in Britain.

More:

The Great Race

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Which was faster the plane or the train? Click to find out

After the rather sombre tone of our recent posts, here is a little light hearted fun, courtesy of the Daily Telegraph. There’s been a long-standing debate between the editor of W-wa Jeziorki blog and BTWT about what is the best way to travel long-distance in Europe – high speed train or take the plane. We maintain that travel by train is inherently superior. You can work on your laptop, read a book or engage the other travellers in conversation. Every time one travels by plane, one’s life is shortened by 6 weeks because of the stress and toxic fumes involved. In reply our friend Mike claims that plane travel is faster.

When the Eurostar service was transferred to St Pancras and the shortest rail journey time from London to Paris was shortened to just 2 hours 15 minutes, the Daily Telegraph decided to put both modes of transport to the test. Two of its travel writers were sent out to race from Westminster to the Eiffel Tower.

Francisca Kellett took the plane: the British Airways 12:50 from Heathrow

We meet in the morning in the slanting shadow of Big Ben. Not quite pistols at dawn. I don’t need a pistol. I have an aeroplane.

How can I be anything but optimistic? I am taking the fastest mode of transport available to the travelling public.

My flight, from Heathrow to Paris Charles de Gaulle, is scheduled to take a whisper more than an hour. Charles’s Eurostar journey takes two hours 15 minutes.

Even taking into account the time it takes to get to the airport, check in, pass through security and do it all again at the other end, I’m bound to win. I own this race. It’s mine.

Click here to read the rest of Francisca’s account of her journey.

Charles Starmer-Smith took the train: the Eurostar 12:30 from St Pancras

Our head-to-head begins under Big Ben. As we both set off from Parliament Square, the sun illuminates the clock’s golden hands. Today is all about time.

I arrive at St Pancras by Tube, well ahead of schedule, which gives me a chance to marvel at the revamped station. It took 11 years for the architect Alastair Lansley to create what he calls “a deliberate essay in saying we’re going to be bigger and better than our rivals”. As shafts of blue light cascade down from the majestic roof of iron and glass, it seems worth the wait.

I wander though the pillared concourse, but none of the shops and restaurants is open, there’s no sign of the farmers’ market we were promised and a few businessmen grumble that even the executive lounge is closed. But they are soon appeased by complimentary boxes of Champagne and chocolate by way of apology. A children’s choir on the concourse launches into My Favourite Things.

Click here to read the rest of Charles’s account of his journey.

Seen the video? If not click on the picture at the head of this article. I think that there’s no question as to which is the superior mode of transport. N’est-ce pas?

Harris spins his way out of high speed rail

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Tom Harris, Under Secretary of State for Transport
responsible for railways in the UK

It is not parliamentary language to accuse a UK government minister of lying, so instead BTWT accuses Tom Harris of ‘being economical with the truth’. A host of press articles in May about a new high speed line from London to the North gave rise to speculation that the UK government might at last be about to commission a feasibility study for the new line. BTWT bided its time before commenting, waiting for a signal as to the government’s intentions. Now Mr Harris has given that signal and it is firmly fixed in the stop position. Yesterday’s Times reports.

Despite repeated promises to consider the benefits of a dedicated new line capable of carrying passengers from London to Scotland in less than three hours, ministers are thinking again.

In a letter obtained by The Times, Tom Harris, the Rail Minister, said: “The argument that high-speed rail travel is a ‘green option’ does not necessarily stand up to close inspection. Increasing the maximum speed of a train from 200kph [125mph – the current maximum speed of domestic trains] to 350kph leads to a 90 per cent increase in energy consumption.”

Mr Harris was responding to an appeal by Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West of England, asking the Government to make its position clear. Mr Davies pointed out that France had already built 1,000 miles of 190mph line, was planning another 500 miles and was considering raising the top speed of trains to 225mph.

Mr Harris claims that Britain has less need for high-speed rail than other European countries. He said: “The economic geography of the UK is very different from other countries with high-speed lines. The main challenge for the UK’s transport network is congestion and reliability, not journey times and connectivity.”

Mr Harris’s comments contrast sharply with Labour’s 2005 election manifesto, which pledged to “look at the feasibility and affordability of a new North-South high-speed link”.

The fallacies on which Mr Harris’s conclusions are based were quickly pointed out by Chris Davies.

Mr Davies said that Mr Harris had failed to acknowledge the environmental benefits of persuading domestic air passengers to transfer to high-speed rail. He added: “It is very disappointing to see the minister scrabbling around for excuses for the Government’s inaction on high-speed rail, especially when those excuses are so weak.”

A high-speed train produces about 90 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger-kilometre, compared with just over 50g/km for a conventional electric train. But a domestic flight produces 225g/km.

Inter-city lines are severely overcrowded and there is strong evidence that future demand has been underestimated. The total distance travelled by train is growing by about 10 per cent a year, but over the next five years the Government is planning to increase capacity by only 22.5 per cent.

In January Iain Coucher, the chief executive of Network Rail, told The Times that by 2020 Britain needed at least three domestic high-speed lines to add to the 68-mile link between London and the Channel Tunnel.

Richard Brown, the Chief Executive of Eurostar, also added his weight to the debate in a letter published yesterday in The Times.

Sir, Any useful assessment of the environmental benefits of high-speed rail must rely on far more than a simplistic comparison with the energy consumption of conventional trains (“High-speed rail travel is not a green option, say ministers”, June 6).

To start with, no one except the Government is proposing that future high-speed trains would operate at 350km/h (217mph). The current European maximum is 300km/h (186mph) with an emerging consensus that 320km/h (199mph) is the practical maximum in future — so the increase in energy would not be as great as the Government suggests.

Secondly, the actual passenger load factor on Eurostar services is twice as great as that assumed for high-speed trains in the recent rail White Paper, thus halving the Government’s estimate of energy use per passenger journey.

Furthermore, high-speed rail has a proven record across Europe of enabling very significant modal shift from plane to train, delivering a vast saving in carbon dioxide emissions generated by people who would otherwise fly. Research has shown that a Eurostar journey generates less than one-tenth of the carbon dioxide emissions of an equivalent flight.

Electric trains can also be switched to even lower-carbon sources of electricity as soon as these become available under the Government’s energy plans, unlike aircraft and road vehicles which are likely to remain very largely wedded to fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

Finally, any assessment of environmental impact should also be based on the next generation of high-speed trains, which are about 25 per cent more energy-efficient than current fleets such as Eurostar.

With domestic main lines running out of capacity, and with the current rapid expansion of the continental high-speed rail network, the case for further high-speed lines in Britain should be properly and fully investigated.

Richard Brown
Chief executive, Eurostar

If you live in the UK and feel as strongly as we do that the UK is the railway Cinderella of Europe, perhaps you could write to to your own MP, pointing out the fallacies in Mr Harris’s comments, and asking them to obtain details of the basis on which Mr Harris made his extraordinary claims?

You can obtain your MP’s name and address as well as all sorts of other interesting information from TheyWorkForYou.

You may also enjoy playing with L’EcoComparateur, a very nice CO2 emissions calculator for different transport modes. Sadly, it doesn’t do London to Warsaw just yet and, in fact, seems to work best when the journey originates or ends in France. On 25 June, the International Union of Railways is running a workshop to launch the ‘UIC Eco-comparison tools for European routes‘. Perhaps UK Transport Minister, Ruth Kelly, should make sure that Mr Harris attends.

Model railways

Friday, 16 May 2008

High speed ICE in Stuttgart

(photo korchstall)

First a model railway journey from Stuttgart to Northallerton, by fellow wordpress blogger korchstall. Korchstall normally blogs about his tiny model railway based on industrial narrow gauge practice, but this time, it was the journey itself that was a ‘model’ of fast, comfortable and stress free travel.

Well, it turns out that travelling across Europe by train was easier than we dared hope. The bus, tram and trains generally behaved themselves and worked reasonably to schedule, the station staff were friendly, we could carry food and water, go for walks along the train and see the view (except in the tunnel). it was far, far better than flying.

The only slightly stressful part of the journey was the change from the Cologne-Brussels train to the Eurostar. Normally the procedure for changing train was pretty simple: get off train, follow signs to platform, find the approximate place for our coach and wait until the train pulled in. Eurostar insists on shoving its passengers through all manner of checks, and on top of this the British Immigration service checks our passport here, it seems a bit odd to be checking passports for the UK when we have to cross the border to France first, but there we go.

To be fair to National Express, the train left on time, and two hours and twenty minutes later we were in Northallerton. We’d travelled half way across Europe and arrived within two minutes of the planned time- earlier, as it happens.

Try that in a car.

Townscape – Manchester Model Railway Society’s ‘Dewsbury Midland’

Secondly, at this year’s RAILEX 2008 Model Railway Exhibition, you’ll have the chance to see 25 model railway layouts, including the Manchester Model Railway Society’s award winning ‘Dewsbury Midland’. The exhibition is being held on Saturday 24 May (10:30am – 5:30pm) and Sunday 25 May (10am – 5pm) at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium, Harvey Road, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, HP21 9PP, England.

Derelict canal – Pendon Museum (photo Robert Silverwood)

Thirdly, a model derelict canal (based on the Wilts and Berks) on arguably the most amazing model railway in the world at Pendon Museum.

Oh you want to see pictures of model trains? Just keep on clicking through the links!

Reflecting on Customer Service

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Eurostar trains at Waterloo International

Can’t say I’d rather take train from UK to Poland rather than plane – no matter how fast the train was (unless you’re talking maglev and 400mph/600kmph). Door-to-door, London to Warsaw is six hours. Even if a train could do it in twelve, I’d pass. Unless it was thruppence ha’penny return.

So commented W-wa Jeziorki blog editor, Mike Dembinski, on reading my recent Eurostar sees a 21% increase in passengers post. It made me reflect on how different people perceive the quality of goods or services.

For jet-setting Mike, hopping between one business meeting and another, time taken from A to B is the deciding factor. But for my friend Jozek – and hundreds of thousands of Poles like him – a decent through train service with a proper luggage van would be just the ticket. Jozek is having to spend tonight (it’s now Wednesday night) in a hotel on the German-Dutch border because his van has bust a half-axle. He drove out from the UK on Friday night with van and trailer to pick up the belongings of a couple that have sold up in Poland and are moving permanently to the UK.

Mike’s comment reminded me of the time I travelled from London to Warsaw by train. It was November 1994 and Eurostar had just launched its public service between London Waterloo International and Brussels or Paris. I had business meetings in Brussels and Munich and then a short project to complete in Warsaw. Travelling by train – rather than flying and booking hotels – was actually a good solution to my travel and accommodation needs.

I left Waterloo on the morning service. A friend that I hadn’t seen for ages was also travelling, in his case just for fun, and we took photographs of each other posing self-consciously against the Eurostar train. We bumped rather than glided across the BR tracks until we reached the Channel Tunnel terminal. Here the train appreciably speeded up, though not as much as it might have done had the UK government not agreed to reduce the specification of the tunnel railway track as a cost cutting measure. Emerging into daylight at the French portal, the sudden burst of acceleration was phenomenal and soon we were flying along at 160 mph. All too soon, we arrived at our stop at Lille and from here the Eurostar bumped its way slowly over orthodox railway tracks till we reached our destination at Brussels. Passport control at the Belgian end was a handful of officials sitting behind folding card tables who just waved us through.

My Brussels meeting over, and replete with supper from one of the excellent Brussels restaurants, I boarded the night sleeper from Brussels to Munich. This was not a good experience. The German sleeping car attendant directed me to the wrong carriage, and then when I finally found my sleeping compartment and dragged my heavy luggage into it, I discovered that there was no water to freshen up. The attendant seemed to find my difficulties amusing. Here was one fellow who had not forgiven the Poles and Brits, for thrashing the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.

I arrived in Munich, hot, sweaty and cross. I did not endear myself to my German hosts by informing them that the quality of customer service on their night sleeper services was crap, and that before I could start the meeting I needed a bathroom and a good wash. The evening journey from Munich to Hannover was a complete contrast. The ICE train (the German equivalent of the French TGV) was clean and efficient. The Swedish style smoked fish platter was delicious. Why was I then not completely satisfied? What was the missing ingredient?

I waited at Hannover station for the Brussels-Moscow train which was to take me to Warsaw. The Polish WARS sleeper carriages looked dowdy and unkept. My expectations were low. I found my compartment. The attendant poked his head round the door, with a broad grin on his face. “Would you like a hot towel sir? Can I get you a snack or a beer?” Suddenly I knew that the rest of the journey would be OK. I was home!

Eurostar sees 21% increase in passengers

Monday, 14 April 2008

Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP

The day when we can take a cheap and fast train from England to Poland took another small step in the right direction today as Eurostar announced that its passenger carryings had increased by 21% since the move of its London terminal from Waterloo to St Pancras. The Guardian reported that,

Eurostar said 2.17 million customers travelled between London, Paris and Brussels in the first three months of the year, an increase of more than 21.3% on the same period in 2007.

Nick Mercer, Eurostar’s commercial director, said the service was benefiting from shorter journey times thanks to the high-speed link and more customers from around Britain due to the location of St Pancras, which is better connected to the UK rail network than the train operator’s former base in Waterloo.

“The passenger increase is coming from shorter journey times, better punctuality and improved connectivity, particularly from the UK regions. We have seen a near doubling of passengers from places such as York and the east Midlands,” he said.

Eurostar is embarking on a joint marketing campaign with Virgin Trains, East Midlands Trains and National Express East Coast this summer and will tour stations in cities including Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham to advertise deals such as £77 for a return trip from Sheffield to Paris, via St Pancras.

Mercer said around half the growth in passenger numbers came from new customers based north of London, with the rest taken from rival ferry operators and airlines.

(Complete article here)

What a pity that plans to run through Eurostar services from Scotland and the Midlands were stifled at birth and while the rest of Europe is rapidly rolling out a network of plus 300 km/hr high speed lines, the UK’s Ministry of Transport is still twiddling its thumbs about building any such lines in the UK and planning to increase capacity at Heathrow Airport for more flights between London and the North.

A note for non-railway buffs. Sir Edward Watkin built a high speed railway from London to Manchester in 1899. The Great Central main line, also known as the London Extension of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway was opened in 1899, it was the last main line railway built in Britain until the first part of High Speed 1 opened in 2003. From the start it was intended to be part of a high speed line to France through the original Channel Tunnel. The line was closed in stages between 1966 and 1969 although much of the formation still remains intact, although with typical British short-sightedness, key sections of the line through towns such as Rugby and Nottingham have been sold to property developers.

Top Ten Trains

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Fast trains are becoming cool! AskMen.com, an American lifestyle e-magazine usually more concerned with fast cars and fast women, has devoted three pages to reviewing the greatest trains in the world. It’s a great summary of the success that really high speed trains have become. Perhaps someone should send a copy to Ruth Kelly, the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport.

Here is their assessment. BTWT has not endorsed the list.

TGV.com

1 – TGV – France

The French sense of style extends to train travel, naturally, with a smooth and rapid way for locals and travelers to get around. Like the AVE mentioned earlier, the TGV is an acronym, in this case “train à grande vitesse,” or “high-speed train,” and rightly so. Testing found it to be the fastest wheeled train at 357 mph, and passenger runs hit 200 mph. The BBC’s Top Gear pitted its host in a race from London to Monte Carlo with the TGV versus Aston Martin DB9. While Jeremy Clarkson won at the wheel of the Aston, it wasn’t by much, and his driving skills are far superior to most of us hacks that watch him. For us mere mortals, it’s a far safer bet to relax and trust the TGV.

Top route: Lorraine – Champagne-Ardenne

JapanRail.com

2 – Japan Railways Group – Japan

Japan’s original 130-mph “bullet train” of 1964 has inspired imitators, but the country’s high-speed trains are still among the fastest and most technologically advanced. Today, they’re better known by their official name, Shinkansen, or New Trunk Line (signs and information printed in English may still refer to them as “Superexpress”). Call them whatever you like; they’re reliable, safe and fast. Passengers aren’t treated to the same 361-mph top speed achieved in testing, but 186 mph still isn’t bad. Anyway, a study several years ago found the average Shinkansen nailed its scheduled arrival time within six seconds.

Top route: Tokyo – Shin-Osaka

Eurostar.com

3 – Eurostar – England

There are Eurostar lines throughout the continent (go figure), and they’re some of the best ways to get around. It doesn’t hurt if you’re in a hurry. The 1,290-foot trains cruise up to 186 mph in certain areas, yet the only real confirmation of this from your seat is the blurred scenery. It makes sense that few trains arrive late. All speed aside, one route stands apart. While it doesn’t move all that fast, the view isn’t that great and it continually operates at a loss, it still one you can’t miss, and here’s why: it’s the trip through Channel Tunnel, with the journey beginning at London’s historic St. Pancras International train station and ending in Paris.

Top route: London – Paris

Bahn.de

4 – ICE/NachtZug – Germany

Like Italians, Germans know a thing or two about traveling rapidly. Unlike Italians, Germans have shown far greater acceptance of rail travel. Deutsche Bahn keeps passengers moving by day with their efficient and popular InterCityExpress, better known as ICE. For overnight trips, there’s the inviting NachtZug, or Night Train. Yes, many an overnight trip has been taken with Night Train, so don’t let the name give you the heebie-jeebies. After this Night Train experience, you’ll wake up refreshed with your internal organs in harmony and no holding cell in sight.

Top route: ICE “Sprinter”: Berlin – Frankfurt; NachtZug: Hagen – Prague

Wikimedia Commons

5 – TAV – Italy

In a country renowned for high-speed transportation, there are trains that uphold the tradition. The problem is that this has been a well-kept secret amongst many citizens, so TAV’s existence and growth merits recognition in itself. Like the majority of Americans, many Italians favour travelling by car or by plane. Trains are gaining popularity beyond intra-city use, and considerable efforts are being made to emulate and connect with Europe’s finest.

Top route: Rome – Florence

RZD.ru

6 – Russian Railways – Russia

If you have a lot of time on your hands and a burning desire to live the experience, you can sit on a train for almost 6,000 miles on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Incidentally, the state-owned railway’s spot on the countdown is largely in recognition of the ability to operate the challenging stretch under frequently adverse conditions. For the rest of us with more limited time, attention spans and vodka than that trip demands, this is still the way to go between the Russian areas you’ll want to cover on a visit. It beats renting a Lada, anyway.

Top route: St. Petersburg – Moscow

info.Korail.com

7 – KTX – South Korea

The Korea Train eXpress is a modern take on The Little Engine That Could. After the initial Seoul to Pusan route was finished in 2004, passenger numbers were short of expectations. That contributed to overall operational losses, and frequent train breakdowns didn’t help matters. Still, there’s progress. Line expansion is underway, and ridership is on the rise.

Top route: Seoul – Pusan

Renfe.es

8 – AVE – Spain

It’s a worthwhile pursuit to live up to one’s name in the transportation game, despite what Greyhound would have you believe. On the other end of the spectrum is AVE. There’s kind of a double meaning going on here, since “ave” is “bird” in Spanish, though this is really an acronym for Alta Velocidad Española (Spanish High Speed). The duality is real, though. For example, service from Madrid to Seville is so consistent, fares are refunded if the train arrives more than five minutes late.

Top route: Madrid – Seville

GSR.com.au

9 – Great Southern Rail Limited – Australia

Australian cities like Perth and Sydney are great to visit, but there’s so much more to the country. You need to see, well, the country. You could rent a ute, but all that driving is going to take a major chunk of time, even if you explore a region each time you visit. Your best bet is to span the continental coast and see a lot in-between on Great Southern Limited. Two of their three routes are long, multiday affairs, but given the accommodations and scenery, you probably won’t mind at all.

Top route: Perth – Sydney (Indian Pacific)

VR.fi

10 – VR – Finland

Scandinavia is generally underrated and under-visited, making it an unlikely place to bump into the familiar faces you’re trying to forget on vacation. Finland is one of those countries that just works; it’s exceptionally clean, efficient and trouble-free. The state-owned VR Group is no different. When you manage to pry yourself away from Helsinki, VR is probably the best way to take in the countryside as you tour outlying areas.

Top route: Helsinki – Iisalmi