EUROPE: ‘It is an exciting and momentous day, not just for Eurostar but the story of high speed travel across Europe’, Eurostar Chief Executive Mike Cooper told Railway Gazette International on the cross-Channel operator’s first revenue service from London to Amsterdam on April 4.
The service runs twice daily on weekdays and once a day at weekends, offering a journey time to Rotterdam of around 3 h and to Amsterdam of 3 h 41 min. Fares start at £35 one-way, with Eurostar saying the new route provides ‘a fast, comfortable, environmentally friendly’ alternative to flying. ‘We’ll respond to the marketplace, and if the consumers from both countries say that they want more services on the Amsterdam and Rotterdam to London route we’ll respond to that’, said Cooper.
Eurostar sees opportunities in both business and leisure travel, and believes that it will attract passengers by growing the market rather than just attempting to poach passengers from the airlines where the London – Amsterdam flow is one of the busiest in Europe.
‘The current airline market is about 5 million passengers a year’, Cooper said, ‘similar to the size of the Paris market when we launched. What we saw there is a doubling of that market, it’s market growth. I think we’ll be seen as a hugely attractive alternative with the city centre to city centre journey times. Whether it is the business market or city breaks; what we saw in Paris we’ll see in Amsterdam and Rotterdam as well.’
Eurostar’s catering offer is being continuously developed by chef and Culinary Director Raymond Blanc. He told Railway Gazette International the train ‘is one of the most peaceful experiences where there is no stress, you feel happy and when you feel happy you want a bit of food. You never want to take the plane, because it’s so quiet and relaxing with great service.’
Cooper underlined this, commenting that the train is ‘seen as more of a social environment, with a sense of spaciousness, and I’m convinced that we will be successful despite some strong competition from the airlines.’
Cooper said launching the service had involved a number of challenges including rolling stock approval, safety certification and driver training.
Until passport controls and security screening can be carried out in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, UK-bound passengers will be required to take a connecting Thalys service to Brussels, where they will join a Eurostar train following the border checks.
This is disappointing for Cooper, who admitted ‘I would have liked that direct return service on day one’. He said ‘we have commitments from both governments and we have everything in place; the British government is comfortable with a bilateral agreement so we just need the Dutch government to respond and it’s a case of just accelerating that now for the benefit of the Dutch and the British customers.’