Parts of this article (those related to the recent merger with Thalys) need to be updated.(October 2023)
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Eurostar is an international high-speed rail service in Western Europe, connecting Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
The service is operated by the Eurostar Group which was formed from the merger of Eurostar, which operated trains through the Channel Tunnel to the United Kingdom, and Thalys which operated in Western Europe. The operator is exploring future network expansions and aims to double passenger numbers by 2030.
This section covers the history of the Eurostar brand, for history of the former Thalys operator, see Thalys.
Conception and planning
The history of the Eurostar brand can be traced to the choice in 1986 of a rail tunnel to provide a cross-channel link between Britain and France. A previous attempt to construct a tunnel between the two nations had begun in 1974, but was quickly aborted. Construction began afresh in 1988. Eurotunnel was created to manage and own the tunnel, which was finished in 1993, the official opening taking place on 6 May 1994.
In addition to the tunnel's shuttle trains carrying cars and lorries between Folkestone and Calais, the tunnel opened up the possibility of through passenger and freight train services between places further afield. British Rail and France's SNCF contracted with Eurotunnel to use half the tunnel's capacity for this purpose. In 1987, Britain, France and Belgium set up an International Project Group to specify a train to provide an international high-speed passenger service through the tunnel. France had been operating high-speed TGV services since 1981, and had begun construction of a new high-speed line between Paris and the Channel Tunnel, LGV Nord; French TGV technology was chosen as the basis for the new trains. An order for 30 trainsets, to be manufactured in France but with some British and Belgian components, was placed in December 1989. On 20 June 1993, the first Eurostar test train travelled through the tunnel to the UK. Various technical difficulties in running the new trains on British tracks were quickly overcome.
Launch of service
On 14 November 1994, Eurostar services began running from Waterloo International station in London, to Paris-Nord, as well as Brussels-South railway station. The train service started with a limited Discovery service; the full daily service started from 28 May 1995.
In 1995, Eurostar was achieving an average end-to-end speed of 171.5 km/h (106.6 mph) from London to Paris. On 8 January 1996, Eurostar launched services from a second railway station in the UK when Ashford International was opened.
Also in 1996, Eurostar commenced its year-round service to Disneyland with the first train running on 29 June. The following year saw the introduction of services to the French Alps during the winter.
On 20 July 2002 a summer seasonal service to Avignon-Centre was launched. The service ran until 2014 after which it was replaced on 1 May 2015 by an expanded service calling at Avignon TGV and also serving Lyon and Marseille.
On 23 September 2003, passenger services began running on the first completed section of High Speed 1. Following a high-profile glamorous opening ceremony and a large advertising campaign, on 14 November 2007, Eurostar services in London transferred from Waterloo to the extended and extensively refurbished London St Pancras International.
Direct services from London to Amsterdam (returning to Brussels only) were launched on 4 April 2018. This service was made a return service on 26 October 2020.
The Channel Tunnel used by Eurostar services holds the record for having the longest underwater section of any tunnel in the world, and it is the third-longest railway tunnel (behind the Seikan Tunnel and the Gotthard Base Tunnel) in the world.
On 30 July 2003, a Eurostar train set a new British speed record of 334.7 km/h (208.0 mph) on the first section of the "High Speed 1" railway between the Channel Tunnel, and Fawkham Junction in north Kent, two months before official public services began running.
On 4 September 2007, a record-breaking train left Paris-Nord at 10:44 (09:44 BST) and reached London St Pancras International in 2 hours 3 minutes 39 seconds, carrying journalists and railway workers. This record trip was also the first passenger-carrying arrival at the new London St Pancras International station. On 20 September 2007, Eurostar broke another record when it completed the journey from Brussels to London in 1 hour 43 minutes.
Regional Eurostar and Nightstar
The original proposals for Eurostar included direct services to Paris and Brussels from cities north of London: Manchester Piccadilly via Birmingham New Street on the West Coast Main Line and Leeds and Glasgow Central via Edinburgh Waverley, Newcastle and York on the East Coast Main Line.
Seven 14-coach "North of London" Eurostar trains for these Regional Eurostar services were built, but these services never came to fruition. Predicted journey times of almost nine hours for Glasgow to Paris at the time of growth of low-cost air travel during the 1990s made the plans commercially unviable against the cheaper and quicker airlines. Other reasons that have been suggested for these services having never been run were both government policies and the disruptive privatisation of British Rail. Three of the Regional Eurostar units were leased by Great North Eastern Railway (GNER) to increase domestic services from London King's Cross to York and later Leeds. The lease expired in December 2005, and most of the North of London sets were transferred to SNCF for TGV services in northern France.
An international Nightstar sleeper train was also planned; this would have travelled the same routes as Regional Eurostar, plus the Great Western Main Line to Cardiff Central. These were also deemed commercially unviable, and the scheme was abandoned with no services ever operated. In 2000, the coaches were sold to Via Rail in Canada.
Merger with Thalys
On 27 September 2019, the heads of two of Eurostar's major shareholders, Guillaume Pepy of SNCF, and the chair of SNCB, Sophie Dutordoir [fr; nl], publicised that Eurostar was planning to come together with its sister company the Franco-Belgian transnational rail service Thalys. The arrangement is to merge their operations under the working title of "Green Speed" and expand services outside the core London-Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam service, to create a grand Western European high-speed rail service covering the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, serving up to 30 million customers by 2030.
As of 2019,[update] Thalys assisted Eurostar with onward connections between Amsterdam and Brussels, and to provide the Amsterdam to London service, in lieu of passport and customs checks at Amsterdam Centraal station.
In September 2020, the merger between Thalys and Eurostar International was confirmed, a year after Thalys announced its intention to merge with the cross-Channel provider subject to gaining European Commission clearance, to form "Green Speed". SNCF and SNCB already hold a controlling shareholding in Eurostar. In October 2021, it was announced that, following the completion of the merger, the Thalys brand would be discontinued, with all of the new operation's services to be operated under the Eurostar name but with each service's own liveries.
Eurostar was originally operated as a collaboration of three separate French, British and Belgian corporate entities. On 1 September 2010, Eurostar was incorporated as a single corporate entity, Eurostar International Limited (EIL), replacing the joint operation between EUKL, SNCF and SNCB/NMBS. EIL is ultimately owned by SNCF (55%), Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) (30%), Hermes Infrastructure (10%) and SNCB (5%).
Impact of COVID-19
By January 2021, Eurostar ridership went down to less than 1% of pre-pandemic levels. The combined financial troubles and lack of ridership caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to Eurostar seeking governmental assistance from Britain's Treasury and Department for Transport, even though Britain sold its 40% Eurostar holding in 2015. Eurostar's appeal included granting the company access to Bank of England-backed loans and a temporary reduction in track access charges for use of the UK's high-speed rail line. Despite being majority-owned by the French state railway, SNCF, Eurostar was thought to have already exhausted options for governmental assistance from Paris, but both the French transport minister and the UK Department for Transport confirmed they were working on further plans to maintain the service.
By the end of 2022, Eurostar had debts of €964m, following French bailouts and commercial loans. Ridership levels returned to around 8 million in 2022, however this figure was still 3 million below 2019 levels. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurostar has not served the Ashford International or Ebbsfleet International stations in the UK, and has withdrawn its Disneyland Paris and Avignon services, as part of plans to focus on the most profitable routes.
LGV Nord (France)
The LGV Nord (French: Ligne à Grande Vitesse Nord, English: north high-speed line) is a 333-kilometre-long (207 mi) French high-speed rail line that connects Paris with the HSL 1 at the Belgium–France border and the Channel Tunnel. It opened in 1993. Of all French high-speed lines, LGV Nord sees the widest variety of high-speed rolling stock and is quite busy; a proposed cut-off bypassing Lille, which would reduce Eurostar journey times, is called LGV Picardie.
The Channel Tunnel is the only rail connection between Great Britain and the European mainland. It joins LGV Nord in France with High Speed 1 in Britain. Tunnelling began in 1988, and the 50.5 km (31.4-mile) tunnel was officially opened by British sovereign Queen Elizabeth II and the French President François Mitterrand on 6 May 1994. It is owned by Getlink, which charges a significant toll to Eurostar for its use. Within the Channel Tunnel, Eurostar trains operate at a reduced speed of 160 km/h (100 mph) applies for safety reasons. Since the launch of Eurostar services, severe disruptions and cancellations have been caused by fires breaking out within the Channel Tunnel, such as in 1996 and 2008.
HSL 1 (Belgium)
The HSL 1 (Dutch: Hogesnelheidslijn 1, English: High-Speed Line 1) is a 88 km-long (55 mi) Belgian high-speed rail line that connects Brussels with the LGV Nord at the Belgium–France border. It opened on 14 December 1997. Prior to the opening of the HSL 1, Eurostar trains were routed via the slower traditional Belgian railway line 94. A further four-minute improvement for London–Brussels trains was achieved in December 2006, with the opening of the 435 m (1,427 ft) Brussels South Viaduct. Linking the international platforms of Brussels-South railway station with the high-speed line, the viaduct separates Eurostar from local services.
High Speed 1 (United Kingdom)
High Speed 1, formerly known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), is a108 km-long (67 mi) British high-speed rail line that connects London with the Channel Tunnel. It opened in two stages. The first section between the tunnel and north Kent opened in September 2003, cutting journey times by 21 minutes. On 14 November 2007, commercial services began over the whole of the High Speed 1 reducing journey times by a further 20 minutes. The line's London terminal is St Pancras station, which was redeveloped for the project.
The HSL-Zuid (Dutch: Hogesnelheidslijn Zuid, English: South high-speed line), is a 125 km-long (78 mi) Dutch high-speed railway line that connects Amsterdam with the HSL 4 at the Belgum-Netherlands border. It opened on on 7 September 2009.
Eurostar offers up to 15 weekday London – Paris services (19 on Fridays) including nine non-stop (13 on Fridays). There are also nine (ten on Friday) London–Brussels services, of which two run non-stop (continuing to Amsterdam) and a further two call at Lille only. One service daily operates to Amsterdam via Brussels and Rotterdam, also calling at Lille. There were also seasonal services: in the winter, "Snow trains", aimed at skiers, to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Aime-la-Plagne and Moûtiers in the Alps; these ran weekly, arriving in the alps in the evening and leaving the same evening to arrive in London the following morning. This service was confirmed as withdrawn in August 2023, and its future is unknown.
In February 2018, Eurostar announced the start of its long-planned service from London to Amsterdam, with an initial two trains per day from April of that year running between St Pancras and Amsterdam Centraal. This launched as a one-way service, with return trains carrying passengers to Rotterdam and Brussels Midi/Zuid, making a 28-minute stop (which was not deemed long enough to process UK-bound passengers) and then carrying different passengers from Brussels to London. Initially passengers travelling back took a Thalys service to Brussels Midi/Zuid where they could join the Eurostar. This was due to the lack of facilities for juxtaposed controls by the UK Border Force at Amsterdam Centraal and Rotterdam Centraal. On 4 February 2020, the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, and the UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced that juxtaposed controls would be established at Amsterdam Centraal and Rotterdam Centraal. The direct train from Amsterdam was originally due to launch on 30 April 2020, and from Rotterdam on 18 May 2020, although it was later postponed to 26 October 2020 for both cities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 14 November 2007, all Eurostar trains have been routed via High Speed–1 to or from the redeveloped London terminus at London St Pancras International, which at a cost of £800 million was extensively rebuilt and extended to cope with 394 m (431-yard) long Eurostar trains. It had been intended to retain some Eurostar services at Waterloo International, but this was ruled out on cost grounds. Completion of High Speed–1 increased the potential number of trains serving London. Separation of Eurostar from British domestic services through Kent meant that timetabling was no longer affected by peak-hour restrictions.
Eurostar's fares were significantly higher in its early years; the cheapest fare in 1994 was £99 return. In 2002, Eurostar was planning cheaper fares, an example of which was an offer of £50-day returns from London to Paris or Brussels. By March 2003, the cheapest fare from the UK was £59 return, available all year around. In June 2009 it was announced that one-way single fares would be available at £31 at the cheapest. Competition between Eurostar and airline services was a large factor in ticket prices being reduced from the initial levels. Business Premier fares also slightly undercut air fares on similar routes, targeted at regular business travellers. In 2009, Eurostar greatly increased its budget ticket availability to help maintain and grow its dominant market share. The Eurostar ticketing system is very complex, being distributed through no fewer than 48 individual sales systems. Eurostar is a member of the Amadeus CRS distribution system, making its tickets available alongside those of airlines worldwide.
Eurostar has two sub-classes of first class: Standard Premier and Business Premier; benefits include guaranteed faster checking-in and meals served at-seat, as well as the improved furnishings and interior of carriages. The rebranding is part of Eurostar's marketing drive to attract more business professionals. Increasingly, business people in a group have been chartering private carriages as opposed to individual seats on the train.
Without the operation of Regional Eurostar services using the North of London trainsets across the rest of Britain, Eurostar has developed its connections with other transport services instead, such as integrating effectively with traditional UK rail operators' schedules and routes, making it possible for passengers to use Eurostar as a quick connection to further destinations on the continent. All three main terminals used by the Eurostar service – St Pancras International, Paris Gare du Nord, and Brussels Midi/Zuid – are served by domestic trains and by local urban transport networks such as the London Underground, Paris Metro, Brussels Metro and Amsterdam Metro. Standard Eurostar tickets no longer include free onward connections to or from any other station in Belgium: this is now available for a flat-rate supplement, currently £5.50.
Eurostar has announced several partnerships with other rail services, most notably Thalys connections at Lille and Brussels for passengers to go beyond current Eurostar routes towards the Netherlands and Germany. In 2002, Eurostar initiated the Eurostar-Plus program, offering connecting tickets for onward journeys from Lille and Paris to dozens of destinations in France. Through fares are also available from 68 British towns and cities to destinations in France and Belgium. In May 2009 Eurostar announced that a formal connection to Switzerland had been established in a partnership between Eurostar and Lyria, which will operate TGV services from Lille to the Swiss Alps for Eurostar connection.
In May 2019, Eurostar ended its agreement with Deutsche Bahn that allowed passengers to travel by train from the UK to Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Under the agreement passengers could travel on a single booking which made rescheduling easier. However, the direct tickets ceased to be sold from 9 November 2019.
Controls and security
Because the UK is not part of the European Union or the Schengen Area, and because the Netherlands, Belgium and France are not part of the Common Travel Area, all Eurostar passengers must go through border controls. Both the British Government and the Schengen governments concerned (Belgium, Netherlands and France) have legal obligations to check the travel documents of those entering and leaving their respective countries.
To allow passengers to walk off the train without arrival checks in most cases, juxtaposed controls ordinarily take place at the embarkation station.
To comply with UK law, there are full security checks similar to those at airports, scanning both bags and people's pockets. The recommended check-in time is 90–120 minutes except for business class where it is 45–60 minutes; these are much longer than previously because of extra checks in place due to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eurostar passengers travelling within the Schengen area on trains towards London bypass border checks, and enter the preallocated cars at the rear of the train, which are reserved for these passengers. This area is then searched at Lille and all passengers removed. This arrangement was set up after numerous people entered the UK without prior authorisation, by buying a ticket from Brussels to Lille or Calais but remaining on the train until London – an issue exacerbated by Belgian police threatening to arrest UK Border Agency staff at Brussels-South if they tried to prevent passengers whom they suspected of attempting to exploit this loophole from boarding Eurostar trains. Travel from Calais or Lille towards Brussels and the Netherlands has no border or security control. On 7 July 2020, a modified agreement was signed in Brussels that includes The Netherlands in the previous agreement. This allows for juxtaposed controls in Amsterdam and Rotterdam like those in Brussels and Paris.
When the tripartite agreements were signed, the Belgian Government said that it had serious questions about the compatibility of this agreement with the Schengen Convention and the principle of free movement of people enshrined in various European treaties.
On 30 June 2009, Eurostar raised concerns at the UK House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that it was illegal under French law to collect the information required by the UK government under the e-Borders scheme, and the company would be unable to cooperate.
On the northbound Disneyland and ski trains, the security check and French passport check take place at the origin, while the UK passport check takes place at the UK arrival stations. These are the only route where passengers are not cleared by UK border officials before crossing the Channel.
On the northbound Marseille-London train, there is no facility for security or passport checks at the southern French stations, so passengers must leave the train at Lille-Europe, taking all their belongings with them, and undergo security and border checks there before rejoining the train which waits at the station for just over an hour.
On several occasions, people have tried to stow away illegally on board the train, sometimes in large groups, trying to enter the UK; border monitoring and security is therefore extremely tight. Eurostar claims to have good and well-funded security measures.
Eurostar's punctuality has fluctuated from year to year, but usually remains over 90%; in the first quarter of 1999, 89% of services operated were on time, and in the second quarter it reached 92%. Eurostar's best punctuality record was 97.35%, between 16 and 22 August 2004. In 2006, it was 92.7%, and in 2007, 91.5% were on time.[note 1] In the first quarter of 2009, 96% of Eurostar services were punctual, compared with rival air routes' 76%.
An advantage held by Eurostar is the convenience and speed of the service: with shorter check-in times than at most airports and hence quicker boarding and less queueing and high punctuality, it takes less time to travel between central London and central Paris by high-speed rail than by air. Eurostar now has a dominant share of the combined rail–air market on its routes to Paris and Brussels. In 2004, it had a 66% share of the London–Paris market, and a 59% share of the London–Brussels market. In 2007, it achieved record market shares of 71% for London–Paris and 65% for London–Brussels routes.
Eurostar's passenger numbers initially failed to meet predictions. In 1996, London and Continental Railways forecast that passenger numbers would reach 21.4 million annually by 2004, but only 7.3 million was achieved. Eighty-two million passengers used Waterloo International Station from its opening in 1994 to its closure in 2007. 2008 was a record year for Eurostar, with a 10.3% rise in passenger use, which was attributed to the use of High Speed 1 and the move to St Pancras. The following year, Eurostar saw an 11.5% fall in passenger numbers during the first three months of 2009, attributed to the 2008 Channel Tunnel fire and the 2009 recession.
As a result of the poor economic conditions, Eurostar received state aid in May 2009 to cancel out some of the accumulated debt from the High Speed 1 construction programme. Later that year, during snowy conditions in the run-up to Christmas, thousands of passengers were left stranded as several trains broke down and many more were cancelled. In an independent review commissioned by Eurostar, the company came in for serious criticism about its handling of the incident and lack of plans for such a scenario.
In 2006, the Department for Transport predicted that, by 2037, annual cross-channel passenger numbers would probably reach 16 million, considerably less optimistic than London and Continental Railways's original 1996 forecast. In 2007 Eurostar set a target of carrying 10 million passengers by 2010. The company cited several factors to support this objective, such as improved journey times, punctuality and station facilities. Passengers in general, it stated, are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental effects of air travel, and Eurostar services emit much less carbon dioxide. and that its remaining carbon emissions are now offset, making its services carbon neutral. Further expansion of the high-speed rail network in Europe, such as the HSL-Zuid line between Belgium and the Netherlands, continues to bring more destinations within rail-competitive range, giving Eurostar the possibility of opening up new services in future.
In 2019, cumulative ridership since 1994 surpassed 200 million. Eleven million passengers travelled on its international services during 2018, the highest ever, a 7% increase on the 10.3 million carried in 2017.
Awards and accolades
Eurostar has been hailed as having set new standards in international rail travel and has won praise several times over for its high standards. However, Eurostar had previously struggled with its reputation and brand image. One commentator had defined the situation at the time as:
In June 2003, Eurostar was battling to recover from the worst period in its 10-year history. Negative media coverage combined with poor sales and the general public's low opinion of the British rail industry, created a major challenge... Eurostar was finding it difficult to pick itself up from one of the worst periods in its decade-long history. The period post 9/11 had sent the business into a downturn. Passenger numbers were drying up due to worries over international travel. Several management changes had led to a pause in strategy. Punctuality had suffered badly because of wider problems with the UK's rail infrastructure.
Eurostar won the Train Operator of the Year award in the HSBC Rail Awards for 2005. In 2006, Eurostar's Environment Group was set up, with the aim of making changes in the Eurostar services' daily running to decrease negative environmental impact. The organisation set itself a target of reducing carbon emissions per passenger journey by 25% by 2012. Drivers were trained in techniques to achieve maximum energy efficiency, and lighting was minimised; the provider of the bulk of the energy for the Channel Tunnel was switched to nuclear power stations in France. Eurostar's target was to reduce emissions by 35 percent per passenger journey by 2012, putting itself beyond the efforts of other railway companies in this field and thereby winning the 2007 Network Rail Efficiency Award. In the grand opening ceremony of St Pancras International, one of the Eurostar trains was given the name 'Tread Lightly', said to symbolise their smaller impact on the environment compared to planes. By 2008, Eurostar's environmental credentials had become highly developed and promoted.
Since then, Eurostar has received multiple awards. It was declared the Best Train Company in the joint Guardian/Observer Travel Awards 2008 and earned a spot on the Sunday Times' Best Green Companies List (2009). Other awards include: ICARUS’ Environmental Award for Best Rail Provider (2009), Guardian & Observer Travel Award for Best Train Company (2009), Travel Weekly's Golden Globes Award for Best Rail Operator (2010), World Travel Market's Responsible Tourism Award for Best Low Carbon Initiative (2011), TNT Magazine's Gold Backpack Award for Favourite Travel Transport (2012), World Travel Awards Europe's Leading Passenger Rail Operator (2011), National Rail Awards Train of the Year (2017), PETA's Travel Award for Best Travel Experience (2019), Mobile Industry Awards' Distributor of the Year (2020).
In 2007, Eurostar became the world's first carbon-neutral train service through its launch of "Tread Lightly," an environmental programme with the goal of reducing the service's carbon-dioxide emissions by 25% by 2012. The programme included: reducing power consumption on its rolling stock; sourcing more electricity from lower-emission generators; adding new controls on lighting, heating, and air conditioning; reducing paper usage via electronic tickets; recycling water and employee uniforms; sourcing all food on board from Britain, France, or Belgium. Eurostar also funded three renewable energy projects in developing regions around the world: a windfarm in Tamil Nadu, India; a micro-hydropower project in China; and a plan specifying improvements on fuel consumption of three-wheeler taxis in Indonesia.
In 2019, Eurostar removed all single-use plastics from its trains between London and Paris. Now the trains serve only wooden cutlery, recyclable cans of water, glass wine bottles, paper-based coffee cups, and eco-friendly food packaging. Eurostar partnered with the Woodland Trust, ReforestAction, and Trees for All in 2020, with the goal of planting 20,000 trees each year in woodlands along its routes across the UK, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Since Tread Lightly launched, Eurostar has reduced its carbon footprint by over 40% and now emits up to 90% less greenhouse gas emissions than the equivalent flight.
Eurostar is a member of Railteam, a marketing alliance formed in July 2007 of seven European high-speed rail operators. The alliance plans to allow tickets to be booked from one end of Europe to the other on a single website. In June 2009 London and Continental Railways, and the Eurostar UK operations they held ownership of, became fully nationalised by the UK government.
Eurostar is not permitted to carry passengers on journeys within a country, so passengers cannot travel (for example) from Lille to Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy, London to Ashford, or Rotterdam to Amsterdam. Lille to Brussels is the only international intra-Schengen journey that Eurostar is offering for sale.
|Class||Image||Top speed||Carriages||Number in use||Unit numbers||Electric systems||Routes operated||Built|
|Eurostar e300||300||186||2 power cars + 18 coaches||11||
|Eurostar e320||320||200||16 self-propelled coaches||17||
|PBA||300||186||2 power cars + 8 coaches||9||4532-4540||1996|
Built between 1992 and 1996, Eurostar's fleet consisted of 38 EMU trains, designated Class 373 in the United Kingdom and TGV TMST in France. The units have also been branded as the Eurostar e300 by Eurostar since 2015. There are two variants:
- 31 "Inter-Capital" sets consisting of two power cars and eighteen passenger carriages. These trains are 394 m (1,293 ft) long and can carry 750 passengers: 206 in first class, 544 in standard class.
- Seven shorter "North of London" sets which have two power cars and fourteen passenger carriages and are 320 m (1,050 ft) long. These sets have a capacity of 558 seats: 114 first class, 444 standard and which were designed to operate the aborted Regional Eurostar services.
Each train has a unique four-digit number starting with "3" (3xxx). This designates the train as a Mark 3 TGV (Mark 1 being SNCF TGV Sud-Est; Mark 2 being SNCF TGV Atlantique). The second digit denotes the country of ownership:
- 30xx UK
- 31xx Belgium
- 32xx France
- 33xx Regional Eurostar
The trains are essentially modified TGV sets, and can operate at up to 300 km/h (186 mph) on high-speed lines, and 160 km/h (100 mph) in the Channel Tunnel. It is possible to exceed the 300 km/h speed limit, but only with special permission from the safety authorities in the respective country. Speed limits in the Channel Tunnel are dictated by air-resistance, energy (heat) dissipation and the need to be used with other, slower trains. The trains were designed with Channel Tunnel safety in mind, and consist of two independent "half-sets" each with its own power car. In the event of a serious fire on board while travelling through the tunnel, passengers would be transferred into the undamaged half of the train, which would then be detached and driven out of the tunnel to safety. If the undamaged part were the rear half of the train, this would be driven by the Chef du Train (conductor), who is a fully authorized driver and occupies the rear driving cab while the train travels through the tunnel for this purpose.
As the Class 374 units have entered service the Class 373 fleet has gradually been reduced. Eleven remain in regular service with 17 scrapped and ten in storage.
In 2004–2005 the "Inter-Capital" sets still in daily use for international services were refurbished with a new interior designed by Philippe Starck. The original grey-yellow scheme in Standard class and grey-red of First/Premium First were replaced with a grey-brown look in Standard and grey-burnt-orange in First class. Power points were added to seats in First class and coaches 5 and 14 in Standard class. Premium First class was renamed BusinessPremier.
In 2008, Eurostar announced that it would be carrying out a mid-life refurbishment of its Class 373 trains to allow the fleet to remain in service beyond 2020. This will include the 28 units making up the Eurostar fleet, but not the three Class 373/1 units used by SNCF or the seven Class 373/2 "North of London" sets. As part of the refurbishment, the Italian company Pininfarina was contracted to redesign the interiors, and The Yard Creative was selected to design the new buffet cars. On 11 May 2009 Eurostar revealed the new look for its first-class compartments. The first refurbished train was due in service in 2012, and Eurostar planned to complete the entire process by 2014. On 13 November 2014 Eurostar announced the first refurbished trains would not re-enter the fleet until the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2015 due to delays at the completion centre. The last refurbished e300 eventually re-entered service in April 2019.
In addition to the announced mid-life update of the existing Class 373 fleet, Eurostar in 2009 began looking to purchase eight new trainsets. Any new trains would need to meet the same safety rules governing passage through the Channel Tunnel as the existing Class 373 fleet. The replacement to the Class 373 trains has been decided jointly between the French Transport Ministry and the UK Department for Transport. The new trains will be equipped to use the new ERTMS in-cab signalling system, due to be fitted to High Speed 1 around 2040.
On 7 October 2010, it was reported that Eurostar had selected Siemens as preferred bidder to supply 10 Siemens Velaro trainsets at a cost of €600 million These would be sixteen-car, self-propelled, 400-metre-long (1,300 ft) trainsets built to meet Channel Tunnel requirements. The top speed of the e320 trainsets is 320 km/h (200 mph) with 902 seats, compared to the e300 fleet which has a top speed of 300 km/h (186 mph) and a seating capacity of 750. Total traction power will be rated at 16 MW (21,000 hp). The e320 trainsets would also be quadri-current, adding the ability to run on the 15 kV 16.7 Hz AC system used in Germany, allowing for an expanded route network, including services between London and Cologne.
The selection of Siemens would see it break into the French high-speed market for the first time, as all French high-speed operators use TGV derivatives produced by Alstom. Alstom attempted legal action to prevent Eurostar from acquiring the German-built trains, claiming that the Siemens sets would breach Channel Tunnel safety rules, but the case was thrown out by the High Court in London. On 4 November 2010, Alstom lodged a complaint with the European Commission over the tendering process. Alstom then started legal action claiming that the Eurostar tender process was "ineffective", the High Court rejected the second suit in July 2011. In April 2012, Alstom said it would call off court actions against Siemens.
On 13 November 2014, Eurostar announced the purchase of an additional seven e320s for delivery in the second half of 2016. At the same time, Eurostar announced the first five e320s from the original order of ten would be available by December 2015, with the remaining five entering service by May 2016. Of the five sets ready by December 2015, three of them were planned to be used on London-Paris and London-Brussels routes.
|Class 37||Diesel locomotive||90||145||12||Intended to operate sleeper services over non-electrified parts of the railway network in Britain. Eurostar retained three locomotives for the rescue of failed trains, route learning and driver training, but sold them to Direct Rail Services when the new Temple Mills Depot opened in November 2007.|
|Class 73||Electro-diesel locomotive||90||145||2||Were used primarily to rescue failed trains. Eurostar operated two of these from its North Pole depot until 2007, when they were loaned to a pair of educational initiatives having become redundant following the move to Temple Mills.|
|Class 92||Electric locomotive||87||140||7||Intended to operate the Nightstar sleeper services. Eurostar owned seven units of this class, which never saw service until they were sold in 2007 to Europorte 2.|
|Class 373 Eurostar e300||EMU||186||300||38||11 in operation, 10 in storage, 17 scrapped, 4 power cars preserved.|
Accidents and incidents
A number of technical incidents have affected Eurostar services over the years, but up to the present[update] there has only been one major accident involving a service operated by Eurostar, a derailment in June 2000. Other incidents in the Channel Tunnel – such as the 1996 and 2008 Channel Tunnel fires – have affected Eurostar services but were not directly related to Eurostar's operations. However, the breakdowns in the tunnel, which resulted in cessation of service and inconvenience to thousands of passengers, in the run-up to Christmas 2009, proved a public-relations disaster.
On 5 June 2000, a Eurostar train travelling from Paris to London derailed on the LGV Nord high-speed line while traveling at 290 km/h (180 mph). Fourteen people were treated for light injuries or shock, with no fatalities or major injuries. The articulated nature of the trainset was credited with maintaining stability during the incident and all of the train stayed upright. The incident was caused by a traction link on the second bogie of the front power car coming loose, leading to components of the transmission system on that bogie impacting the track.
During the December 2009 European snowfall, five Eurostar trains broke down inside the Channel Tunnel, after leaving France, and one in Kent on 18 December. Although the trains had been winterised, the systems had not coped with the conditions. Over 2,000 passengers were stuck inside failed trains inside the tunnel, and over 75,000 had their services disrupted. All Eurostar services were cancelled from Saturday 19 December to Monday 21 December 2009. An independent review, published on 12 February 2010, was critical of the contingency plans in place for assisting passengers stranded by the delays, calling them "insufficient".
Eurostar and Thalys merged in 2023, with the intention to double combined passenger numbers from 14.8 million to 30 million.
In an interview with Eurostar's former Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic in the Financial Times in May 2012, an intention for cross-Channel Eurostar to serve ten new destinations was expressed, including Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Cologne, Lyon, Marseille and Geneva, along with a likely second hub to be created in Brussels. London-Amsterdam services launched in 2018.
In March 2016, in an interview with Bloomberg, Eurostar's Chief Executive expressed interest in operating a direct train service between London and Bordeaux, but not before 2019. Journey time was said to be around 4.5 hours using the new LGV Sud Europe Atlantique.
Operational difficulties with UK-Schengen trains
"We know we can go to most places in France physically, because our trains are compatible with French infrastructure, but then you've got to look at impact on fleet utilisation, you've got to have a station that's got the spare capacity to have a train stood for a number of hours, for all the security, screening, passport control passes. So it's not possible to go just anywhere. And you've got to be able to get the control authorities to agree that there's a big enough market for it to be worthwhile for them to set up there."
Richard Brown, former Chief Executive of Eurostar.
The e320 trains allow Eurostar for the possibility of London to Germany services in the future. Due to the UK's not having signed up to the Schengen Agreement, which allows unrestricted movement across borders of member countries, as well as different operational standards, expansion cross-Channel services is complex. For example, when the Amsterdam to London route began, it was direct in only one way, with people needing to get a train to Brussels to go through the juxtaposed controls; the direct connection was subject to talks between the UK and Dutch governments, and became completed in 2020 for services to start.
The difficulties that Eurostar faces in expanding its services would also be faced by any potential competitors to Eurostar. As the UK is outside the Schengen Agreement, London-bound trains must use platforms that are physically isolated, a constraint which other international operators such as Thalys do not face. In addition, the British authorities are required to make passenger security and passport checks before they board the train, which might deter domestic passengers. Compounding the difficulties in providing a similar service are the Channel Tunnel safety rules, the major ones being the "half-train rule" and the "length rule". The "half-train rule" stipulated that passenger trains had to be able to split in the case of emergency. Class 373 trains were designed as two half-sets, which when coupled form a complete train, enabling them to be split easily in the event of an emergency while in the tunnel, with the unaffected set able to be driven out. The half-train rule was finally abolished in May 2010. However, the "length rule", which states that passenger trains must be at least 375 m (1,230 ft) long with a through corridor (to match the distance between the safety doors in the tunnel), was retained, preventing any potential operators from applying to run services with existing fleets – the majority of both TGV and ICE trains are only 200 m (660 ft) long.
Deutsche Bahn (DB) intended to run services between London to Frankfurt and Amsterdam (two of the biggest air travel markets in Europe), with trains 'splitting & joining' in Brussels. In July 2010, DB announced that it intended to make a test run with a high-speed ICE-3MF train through the Channel Tunnel in October 2010 in preparation for possible future operations. The trial ran on 19 October 2010 with a Class 406 ICE train specially liveried with a British "Union flag" decal. The train was then put on display for the press at London St Pancras International. However, this was not the class of train planned for the proposed service, instead proposing to use Class 407 ICE units, specially adapted for stronger Channel Tunnel safety standards.
DB scrapped the plan, mainly due to advance passport check requirements. DB had hoped that immigration checks could be done on board, but British authorities required immigration and security checks to be done at Lille-Europe station, taking at least 30 minutes.
In 2021, Renfe, the national operator of Spain announced it was proposing competing London to Paris services. In 2022, Getlink, the owner of the Channel Tunnel had reportedly considered purchasing trains suitable for competing services, leasing them to rival operations., while in 2023, Mobico Group, the owner of National Express has also been reported to be considering cross-Channel services named 'Evoyln'.
Long term possibilities
Stratford International station
Eurostar trains do not currently call at Stratford International, which was intended to be a London stop for the regional Eurostars when the station was constructed. This was to be reviewed following the 2012 Olympics. However, in 2013, Eurostar claimed that its 'business would be hit' by stopping trains there.
Although the original plan for Regional Eurostar services to destinations north of London was abandoned, the significantly improved journey times available since the opening of High Speed 1 — which is physically connected to both the East Coast Main Line and the North London Line (for the West Coast Main Line) at London St Pancras International – and the increased maximum speeds on the West Coast Main Line since the 2000s may make potential Regional Eurostar services more commercially viable. This would be even more likely if proposals are adopted for a new high-speed line from London to the north of Britain. Simon Montague, Eurostar's Director of Communications, commented that: "...International services to the regions are only likely once High Speed 2 is built." However, as of 2014 the current plans for High Speed 2 do not allow for a direct rail link between that new line, and High Speed 1, meaning passengers would still be required to change at London Euston and take some form of transportation to London St Pancras International.
Key pieces of infrastructure still belong to LCR via its subsidiary London & Continental Stations and Property, such as the Manchester International Depot, and Eurostar (UK) still owns several track access rights and the rights to paths on both the East Coast Main Line and the West Coast Main Line. While no announcement has been made of plans to start Regional Eurostar services, it remains a possibility for the future. In the meantime, the closest equivalent to Regional Eurostar services are same-station connections with East Midlands Railway and Thameslink, changing at London St Pancras International. The construction of a new concourse at adjacent London King's Cross improved interchange with St Pancras and provided London North Eastern Railway, Great Northern, Hull Trains and Grand Central services with easier connections to Eurostar.
LGV Picardie is a proposed high-speed line between Paris and Calais via Amiens. By cutting off the corner of the LGV Nord at Lille, it would enable Eurostar trains to save 20 minutes on the journey between Paris and Calais, bringing the London–Paris journey time under 2 hours. In 2008 the French Government announced its future investment plans for new LGVs to be built up to 2020; LGV Picardie was not included but was listed as planned in the longer term.
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