Long Eaton to Amsterdam and back. Few – if any – can say they’ve travelled the return journey of at least 600 miles from the East Midlands to the Dutch capital in one day.
On 20 February, I did just that as part of a group of industry press, staff and guests who were invited on board Eurostar’s inaugural London-Amsterdam service.
The idea of the route has long been mooted. London-Amsterdam is one of the busiest air routes in Europe and after fighting the airlines to secure a reported 70 per cent of the London-Paris market, Eurostar is set to open a new battleground on April 4.
Next stop Amsterdam
Equipped with my passport, laptop and an Amsterdam shopping list (a fridge magnet no less), I started my trip on East Midlands Trains’ (EMT) 05:28 to St Pancras.
Around 20 minutes before Eurostar’s first Amsterdam service set off, guests were ushered into the main lounge and let onto Platform 6, where many busied themselves taking selfies with the waiting Class 374.
Press were seated inside the train’s 16th carriage, next to the cab, and bang on 08:31, Eurostar ES9114 departed.
Speeding through Ebbsfleet, Ashford, Calais and Lille, the service arrived into Brussels Midi in a record time of 1hr 46mins – beating the normal 2hr 1min – with Champagne served to celebrate.
On route, breakfast – croissants, bread and a miniature cooked breakfast from the Raymond Blanc-designed menu – was served. There was also an opportunity to sample cooked meats, cheese and gin.
Staff were friendly and highly attentive and regularly passed through the carriage topping up drinks. In fact, from the beginning to the end of the trip, nothing seemed like too much trouble for them.
A brief stop in Rotterdam Centraal followed and, around two minutes later than planned, the service pulled into Amsterdam Centraal where Roger van Boxtel, CEO of Dutch National operator NS, embraced Eurostar CEO Nicolas Petrovic on the platform, which was bursting with well-wishers there to greet the train.
“Everyone wanted it to happen, it’s just been a lot of work,” said Petrovic, who will soon be stepping down as CEO after eight years at Eurostar’s helm.
He added: “It is really going to change the shape of the business. The potential is very high because the traffic is already very strong.
“We know there are even more people who could travel both ways because many people don’t travel short haul these days because they’re a bit anxious – a little bit worried – about flying.
“It’s going to bring the two countries closer together.
“In the context of Brexit it is a nice symbol that, yeah, there is Brexit but neighbours are still there and the exchanges will still be very strong between both sides of the channel. I think in the mid-term it will completely change the way people interact between the two countries, it will feel a lot closer.”
Plane vs train
With only a short stop scheduled, there was little time to enjoy Amsterdam’s canals and culture, but there was something intriguing about having travelled through four countries in under four hours.
Rather than feeling drained from queuing in the passport and security checks, being left waiting for upwards of an hour in the airport lounge and frustrated by insufficient legroom onboard, I felt relatively fresh.
Legroom was not an issue onboard Eurostar’s e320, something few people over 6ft are used to experiencing. With free Wi-Fi, plug points and space for a laptop, I was far more productive with my time as well.
Souvenirs in hand, the party boarded a Thalys service and then changed at Brussels to a Eurostar train – it is a temporary measure while an agreement is reached for passport checks to be conducted on departure in Amsterdam. The plan is to have a direct service in both directions from the end of 2019. Petrovic acknowledges that the inconvenience for passengers of having to change trains may well discourage tourists.
Some double booked seats proved a rare issue on the journey home but staff were on hand to ensure it was immediately remedied.
With more than four million passengers travelling by air every year between London and Amsterdam, the market is the same size as the London to Paris market at the time of Eurostar’s launch of service in 1994.
The service will entice customers and put the Dutch capital in reach for more people.
Some time later
Interest has peaked with media attention surrounding the launch and the start of ticket sales, but only time will tell how successful Eurostar’s Amsterdam service will be.
After spending almost 10 hours on board either an East Midlands Trains, Eurostar or Thalys service, the full one-day journey ended at 21:06.
Exciting possibilities lie ahead as to where Eurostar could next expand, but Eurostar staff – some of whom started work at 03:00 in the morning – will perhaps be hoping the next launch doesn’t happen any time soon.