Trip Report by Jeff Lunden
(27 January 1995)
I just got back from a brief trip to London and took the Eurostar round trip to Brussels. The journey starts at a new 5 track terminal at Waterloo Station. Checking in is almost like going to an airport, though you put you magnetically encoded ticket in the gate to get into the terminal. You pass through a customs inspection and x-ray machine and then into the terminal itself, which is not unlike an airport waiting lounge. Upstairs, the platforms are covered with a beautiful curved canopy.
The trains are beautiful and comfortable - much like the TGV, though somewhat smaller, for tighter English clearances. The passenger loadings on both trains was extremely low. I doubt there were more than 100 passengers on either journey - and there are 18 cars per trainset! (From power car to power car, the Eurostar is 1/4 mile long!)
First class passengers get meals at their seat; second class passengers make do with sandwiches and snacks.
The English portion of the journey feels slower than it actually is - you're going through multitudes of junctions and suburban stations, though at times the speed gets up to 90 mph, or so. Shortly before you hit the tunnel, the train switches from third rail to catenary and really starts to move. The tunnel crossing takes 20 minutes and the experience is...just like going through a tunnel! The only difference is that my ears were constantly popping from the pressure and the depth.
On the French side, the train passes a new double decked station in Calais and a junction with the Paris route. Before long the train is going 186 mph on the new right of way to Lille. I should add that the ride is very smooth on all of the track, be it high speed or conventional. After Lille, the train goes along a regular main-line route to Brussels and ends up at the south station in a new 2 track terminal. A TGV bypass route is being constructed and it's expected to knock 45 minutes off the timetable next year.
My trip to Brussels was fairly uneventful, but my trip back was something else! Shortly after leaving Brussels, the rear motor car of our set had a serious fire and we were stranded in god-knows-where Belgium for two hours (without power), before they sent another train to pick us up. Then, the French customs officials forced the passengers off the train in Lille because we had become "desterilized" by crossing from one train to the other and they wanted to make sure nobody had snuck on with a bomb! Better they should check their engines - I would've hated to see what would have happened if the train caught fire underneath the Channel! Some people refused to get off the train and it was a real mess. After 40 minutes, they let all of us back on and we proceeded to London, where we arrived at 12:55 am, instead of 8:40 pm.
Anyway, the upside is that they fed us unused 1st class meals, paid for cabs home and refunded the price of the ticket! AND, even with the two hour delay it was faster than it used to be to get between the 2 cities!
I must say that I was very impressed with the crew of the Eurostar and think that once all the kinks are worked out it's going to be just a spectacular way to travel from England to the continent. Fire and all, I was still extremely impressed.
Note: The incident on Jeff's return trip turned out to be an overheated traction motor. During maintenance, the traction motor blower had not been reconnected.