ON NOVEMBER 14 2007, London will finally be placed on Europe's rapidly-growing network of high speed railways.

The opening of Section 2 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will take Eurostar trains at high speed into the heart of the capital, where they will terminate beneath Sir William Barlow's famous trainshed in a strikingly rebuilt St Pancras station. The additional 39 km of line from Southfleet Junction to St Pancras will cut around 20 min off journey times, giving a London - Paris timing of 2 h 15 min. Brussels will be reached in 1 h 51 min.

The last track on the complex approaches to the St Pancras terminus should be in place by the end of 2006, completing the final part of the infrastructure. Energisation at 25 kV 50 Hz will follow, marking the start of a long period of testing and commissioning when Eurostar test trains will run at up to 330 km/h - 10% above the maximum line speed. A lower maximum of 230 km/h will apply through the 3 km Thames tunnel and the 19 km of approach tunnels between Dagenham and Islington, while the limit through the new parkway station at Ebbsfleet (RG 10.06 p650) will also be 230 km/h.

Ebbsfleet's extensive catchment area - which Eurostar believes extends right round London's M25 orbital motorway - is expected to draw around 1·2 million passengers a year. However, Ashford, currently the only intermediate stop between London and the Channel Tunnel, will lose out, with no Brussels services calling there and the Paris service halved.

North of London

The track layout at St Pancras includes a direct link from the CTRL to the West Coast Main Line, and access to the East Coast Main Line will also be possible. This suggests that high speed services may one day run north of London.

Whether they will ever travel on a dedicated high speed line is another question. Parts of the UK rail industry are campaigning for a 300 km/h railway to be built north from London towards Scotland, but the seeds sown in discussions so far have brought forth little support from politicians.

Publication of a report into the UK's long-term transport needs by Sir Rod Eddington, former Chief Executive of British Airways, is expected imminently, although early indications are that any backing for a high speed line would be lukewarm at best. But in the hope of further developments, the completed Channel Tunnel Rail Link is to be rebranded as 'High Speed 1'.