Just returned from a Eurostar trip from London to Paris. I’m putting the train through its paces for a chapter in my next book following on from ‘Steaming to Victory’. Although the decor is a bit tired, the train performed faultlessly, delivering me to the City of Light on the loveliest sunny day of the spring so far. It was also good to find the food aboard produced by Waitrose – all very middle class British. It’s Eurostar’s 20th birthday this year, so it was interesting to compare with some of my trips of the past. I travelled on the first press train to Paris 20 year ago – and I was in the driver’s cab when the full HS1 route was opened – on the record-breaking first through train from St Pancras to Brussels.
It all seems so much less of a novelty now. Which is how it should be! But it still seems something of a miracle to be able to get to Paris in a little over two hours. It’s hard to believe the days of the old boat trains, with a stomach-heaving trip across the Channel, were not so long ago. Eurostar is now up to 10m passengers a year.
The purpose of my journey was to compare today’s Eurostar to the grand luxury continental trains of the past – the Golden Arrow and the Night Ferry, which were like magnificent hotels on wheels with silver service dining cars and immaculate attention from train staff with gold braid uniforms. There were sleeping cars, too, on the Night Ferry, which also went to Switzerland. Now Eurostar has super new trains under construction, which will be coming on stream next year (one is already in Britain for trials). Then its time for the present fleet to get a refurb. The ride is still brilliant, though the interiors are a little tatty. But what I’m really looking forward to is the new direct service to Amsterdam due to start in 2016. Another architecturally beautiful terminus, too, to add to the magnificent duo of St Pancras and the Gare du Nord.