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 Trip Report by David Bunny

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Serve this page from: California, USA / Pisa, Italy

By David Bunny, <>

My First Eurostar Trip

During the Easter I was given an opportunity to travel to Paris on board the Eurostar courtesy of my parents. However due to a slight mix up in our travelling arrangements we had to travel on separate trains. During the easter period extra services were laid on for those people getting away for the easter break. I noticed that these trains were timed at well over 3 hours - in my case the 10h14 departure from London Waterloo was due in to Gare Du Nord at 14h22 local time. That is a public schedule of 3 hours and 8 minutes.

I won't say too much about what others have already said about the accommodation inside the trains or the quite excellent new terminal for Eurostar trains at Waterloo station, but I felt quite cramped inside my seat. Perhaps this was because the train was fully booked; on my usual Class 442 electric to Southampton the train is rarely full. Our seats were in coach 1 at the London end of the train and this also meant I would be able to hear the motors of the Eurostar working.

At 10:16 the train began to move imperceptibly. Again this was quite different from even the Wessex Electric which starts with a slight jerk. The motors made a dim humming sound as the train crawled out of Waterloo Station. It was evident from this that the train had very high gearing or perhaps the potential to develop vast amounts of power as compared to the somewhat different tune of a slower electric unit. Like conventional trains Eurostar passes through Vauxhall stations. The Eurostar is only permitted about 35 mph through here which meant commuter trains bound for destinations on the LSWR line were overtaking us. But soon we began to climb on the newly constructed flyover which would join with the line out of Victoria towards Brixton. The train was quite slow up to this point. It wasn't until passing Brixton that the train began to accelerate towards the 60 mph limit. The ride was simply excellent. The tracks around this area are not exactly first class, neither are the usual 30 plus year old Class 411 electric units that usually operate services this way. Bromley South was passed 17 minutes after leaving Waterloo and the Eurostar continued to accelerate. By now I was worried as I knew we were not going via the Tonbridge route. The brakes were soon being applied passing Swanley. Indeed the clasp and disk brakes make quite a noise during hard braking, certainly more noise than on an intercity 125, not withstanding the fact that rheostatic braking was fully applied anyway. Speed limits via the Maidstone East route are quite sedate. 70 mph is the speed limit as far as Maidstone East not withstanding the restriction at Otford as we come off onto the Maidstone route instead of continuing to Sevenoaks. The brakes were applied cautiously for the entry into Maidstone East station itself, the site of a severe accident involving a Class 47. Acceleration uphill from the 25 mph limit was poor. I wasn't expecting much and the train was jerking slightly on the pull out. I suspected this to be the ICMU circuit breakers working hard as Eurostar consumed as much current (6800 amps) as it was permitted. Fortunately we were able to run at 80 mph to Ashford before the taking the slow left turn into the station. 1 hour and seven minutes had now elapsed. At Ashford I saw the reason for our diversion - engineering works on the Tonbridge - Ashford section. For some reason Eurostar did not accelerate appreciably after Ashford. I am unsure of the gradient profile around this area but I believe there is a climb of sorts. But Sandling was passed about 10 minutes later. I heard the air conditioning wind down and the doors enclosing the articulated sections of the trains were closed. I estimate the speed at the changeover point from 750V DC to 25 KV AC to be about 50 mph. Soon the air conditioning was on again as the transfer was made and the motors emitted a deeper humming sound. The pitch of the motors was louder and I felt an acceleration I had never before experienced on an intercity train. As a result our speed was close to the permitted 160 km/h (99 mph) as we entered the tunnel at 11:35.

I expected there to be some kind of air pressure change affecting the ears as one experiences on the Picadilly line between Hatton Cross and Terminal 4. But there was no such sensation and the ride was excellent. However Eurostar was made to slow several times and as it slowed towards the tunnel exit again, our time to traverse the tunnel was 25 minutes. Shortly afterwards we were brought to a standstill at the start of the Ligne A Grande Vitesse (LGV). The unexplained delay lasted a few minutes and we soon got going, the motors emanating a deep humming sound with an acceleration that makes the intercity 125 seem tame. 4 minutes later I timed the train >from the kilometre posts mounted on the catenary posts for the electric wires. 240 km/h (150 mph). Another 5 minutes later I timed the train again. One kilometre in 12.2 seconds. 295 km/h (183 mph). Successive timings over 2 and 3 kilometres revealed exactly the same speed. The explanation is as follows. From several rides on french trains where I have been able to have a cab view, drivers rarely set the 'cruise control' at the speed limit. They prefer to set it slightly under so the system does not exceed the actual line speed limit on a descent. This philosophy is different from driving practices I have noticed in England where speeding by a few mph is common. Soon after I clocked the train doing a constant 295 km/h (183 mph) the train manager announced we were doing 300 km/h (186 mph). We had left the tunnel at 13:00 local time. For an unknown reason we were checked badly through Lille, almost to a stand. But we were soon back on the LGV again and at 295 km/h. The LGV runs alongside the autoroute A1 for a lot of the way and the speed at which vehicles are overtaken is undescribable. The ride at high speed was most impressive. The cant of the train around some curves and the rapid ascents and descents on this part of the LGV was also noticeable. I think it was because of these undulations that I clocked our fastest speed 299 km/h (185.6 mph). At kilometre post 20 Eurostar began to slow. We swung away from the A1 Autoroute and joined the traditional main line out of Paris somewhere near Villers Le Belle Gonesse. 160 km/h (99 mph) was still permitted so we were able to carry on speeding in style as far as St.Denis where a 90 km/h (56 mph) applies onward to Gare Du Nord just a few kilometres away. The end of the TGV was reached at 14:17, 1 hour and 17 minutes after leaving the tunnel but due to a stop outside Paris Nord, the actual arrival time was at 14:30, 8 minutes late. I was in coach 1. Long way to walk! The table for the journey is shown below.

Table 1   : Waterloo International -  Paris Gare du Nord
Date      : April 14 1995.
Formation : 2 x 18 Class 373  Nos : 3015/Unknown
Load: No/Empty/full (tons)    18/740/Unknown but fully loaded.

Dist                                    Actual    Speeds
Miles                                   m s       mph!
0.0       WATERLOO INTERNATIONAL        0         -
9.5       Beckenham Junc                14        41
11.7      Bromley South                 17        44
          Otford                        31
          Maidstone East                49
58.1      ASHFORD                       67        56**
71.3      UK Portal                     79        66
81.9      UK Cross-over                 87        80
92.8      French Cross-over             95.5      77
102.6     French Portal                 104       69
298.1     End of LGV                    181       152
307.2     PARIS NORD                    194       42

*    Out-of-course speed restrictions.
**   Average and distance estimated from Tonbridge route.
!    Average speeds from previous timing point.

The journey home was taken in the same Eurostar set as on the outward journey. Our seats were in coach 5 on this occasion so I would not be able to hear the motors. I wonder if it is common practice or just chance but on the outward journey our train managers were French whereas on the return they were English. The weather was pelting down with rain and I expected this would affect the Eurostar's performance on the LGV. A sight I am unfamiliar with at Gare Du Nord are TGV trainsets bound for destinations in northern France. In the past the only Parisian station these could be found at was Gare de Lyon but now they seem to be everywhere! The Eurostar has a more streamlined shape than the TGV-Rs and this could mislead people to believe the Eurostar is a faster train. A comparison between the TGV sets is listed below.

Table 2   : TGV Power to Weight ratios

Train       Motors      Rating(KW/HP)      Total(KW/HP) Ratio(HP/ton)
TGV-PSE     12          535/717            6420/8600        22.6
TGV-A       8           1100/1474          8800/11800       24.4
Eurostar    12          1166/1562          14000/18760      23.6
TGV-R       8           1100/1474          8800/11800       30.8

The start out of Paris was half a minute early. 10 minutes later we were on the LGV but I felt no increase in acceleration, certainly nothing like on the outbound journey. Perhaps the rain was causing some adhesion problems. At Km post 40 (25 miles) I timed the train at 253 km/h (157 mph) and at Km post 50 (31 miles) it was 275 km/h (171 mph). Subsequent timings from the kilometre posts revealed that no less than 13 seconds were being taken for each kilometre. This seems to be consistent with the cruise control being set at 280 km/h (174 mph). Lille was past 60.5 minutes after leaving Paris and we had averaged 145 mph on the LGV. The 64.7 miles remaining from Lille to the tunnel were also taken at a relatively sedate pace. Each kilometre took at 15 seconds to cover, consistent with the cruise control set at 240 km/h (150 mph). However this was sufficient to French tunnel portal in 90 minutes from Gare Du Nord, the same time it had taken us on the outbound journey. The train had been slowed severely through Calais Frethun station and again at the British end of the channel tunnel so our time to traverse the 30.7 miles was 26 minutes, well over the 20 minutes announced by the train manager.

Back on British soil, Eurostar accelerated hard for the changeover to third rail. I was most impressed with our progress thereafter. Almost 80 mph was averaged to Ashford and despite another severe slowing through here, nearly 90 mph was averaged to Paddock Wood. Clearly the Eurostars must now be permitted to take advantage of special 100 mph speed limits on the straight between Tonbridge and Ashford. The wheel flanges of the Eurostar squealed in complaint as the Tonbridge curve was rounded at 50 mph which precedes a stiff climb at around 1/122 to the Knockholt summit. On the climb I could feel the train jerk slightly, probably as a result of arcing and the ICMUs cutting in. But despite the 750V DC limitations and not withstanding the acceleration from the 50 mph limit at Tonbridge, 63 mph was averaged, and speed was kept in the high sixties to the summit. Once over the top acceleration was rapid and the average of 81 to Orpington must have meant the driver taking advantage of the 90 mph limit downhill. The traversing of Petts Wood junction was quite lively and just 4 minutes after passing Orpington, Bromley South as passed. Now the speed limit would be 60 mph all the way to Brixton but an unchecked run in at the permitted speed limit as well as the usual crawl in from Brixton resulted in an on time arrival in 184 minutes.

Table 3   : Paris Gare du Nord - Waterloo International
Date      : April 18 1995
Formation : 2 x 18 Class 373  Nos : 3015/Unknown
Load: No/Empty/full (tons)    18/740/Unknown but fully loaded.

Dist                                    Actual    Speeds
Miles                                   m s       mph!
0       Gare du Nord                    0         - 
9.1     Start of LGV                    10        55
130.8   Lille - Europe                  60.5      145
195.5   French Portal                   90.5      129
216.2   UK Crossover                    106.5     78
226.8   UK Portal                       116.5     64
240.0   Ashford                         126.5     79
266.6   Paddock Wood                    144.5     89
271.9   Tonbridge                       149.5     64
279.3   Sevenoaks                       156.5     63
284.9   Knockholt                       161.5     67
287.6   Orpington                       163.5     81
291.7   Bromley South                   167.5     63
303.2   Brixton                         176.5     51
307.2   London Waterloo                 184.5     30

!    Average speeds from previous timing point.

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