High speed trains are chosen over jets by many Europeans traveling between large cites. In Germany, between Munich and Hamburg, ICE passengers watch television in large and comfortable seats, snack or eat more formal meals in a "Bistro" while speeding from Munich to Hamburg at 175 miles per hour. Sleek Italian ETRs travel between Rome and Milan at 155 miles per hour. Trains a Grand Vitesse (TGV), faster than Japanese bullet trains, streak across France and Spain at nearly 200 miles per hour. Soon most of these high-speed systems will be linked. And now a major new development has been completed which connects the Continent to Great Britain, extending the high-speed network, and making it easier to combine visits to Germany, Switzerland or Austria with a trip to Britain.
This striking engineering achievement: consisting of twin single tracked 23 mile long rail tunnels, officially called Eurotunnel, was opened by the Queen and French President Mitterand on May 6, and will be fully operational in six months. The connection between Folkestone, Britain and Sangatte, France which took 6.5 years and $15 billion to build, will significantly shorten times between London, Paris, Brussels, and through Brussels, to Germany, Switzerland and Austria, as well as improving the quality of travel.
By early winter 1995, many former air travelers will prefer to climb on one of the sleek, new, high-speed Eurostar passenger trains that leave from the centers of London, Paris and Brussels. They will work, sleep, read or eat for three hours uninterrupted, rather than experience the hassle of getting to and from airports, which can take an hour or more each way. Some will continue their trips to other Continental cities.
Save Time To/From Germany
Trips between Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Great Britain will be hours quicker, with fewer transfers. Take a trip from Cologne to London as an example: at present a rail passenger could depart Cologne at 9:14 a.m. and, changing from rail to hydrofoil and back to rail, arrive in Victoria Station at 5:23 p.m. With the new schedule, the arrival time in Waterloo would be 1:39 p.m., including one change of train in Brussels, a saving of 3.5 hours. From Frankfurt a departure at 9:49 a.m. would currently mean an arrival in London at 8:47 p.m. From Munich, a day trip to London presently means leaving at 6:44 a.m. for the same 8:47 p.m. arrival. With Eurotunnel both journeys would be more than four hours faster, arriving at 4:39 p.m.
Until improvements currently underway are completed, not all the ride will be at top speed. From Brussels and Paris, Eurostars will move at 186 miles per hour on the French side of the Channel, pass through an interchange in Lille and slow to 100 miles per hour through the Tunnel, continuing to London at the same pace. Even with these limitations, it will be quicker to travel by rail to the closer cities than by either air or private automobile.
Day service commences between Paris and Brussels in late 1995 to Edinburgh, Newcastle, York, and Peterborough in northern Britain and to Manchester, Birmingham and Milton Keynes in the northwest. In late 1995 service is extended to Germany as overnight trains begin operation.
A fleet of 125 miles per hour "hotel trains" will run from London to Cologne, Duisberg, Düsseldorf, Essen, Dortmund, Bonn, Koblenz and Frankfurt in Germany and to Rotterdam, The Haag, and Amsterdam in Holland. These sleepers will include compartments with private toilets and showers and a comfortable lounge for late night beverages or snacks. Simultaneously, night runs begin between Glasgow, Swansea and Plymouth in England and Paris and Brussels.
In five years, when the high speed tracks are complete on the English side, the trip will be 30 minutes quicker. Further improvements in 1996, will reduce time between London-Brussels to 2 hours 40 minutes and London-Amsterdam to 4 hours 30 minutes. In 2000, London-Amsterdam will be cut to 3 hours 10 minutes and a high-speed line will open between Brussels and Cologne reducing the time between London and Cologne to 6.5 hours.
Although it is a rail-only tunnel, passengers in cars or vans can make use of special trains that will ferry automobiles with their passengers inside, between the terminal in Folkestone on the English coast, and the French terminal in Sangatte, near Calais, directly across the Channel, saving a half hour over ferry times. Beginning this summer "Le Shuttle" will make four trips an hour during peak periods, and at least one an hour through the night. With loading and unloading time at either side, it will take about one hour to get from France to England including the 35 minute journey through the tunnel itself.
What Will It Cost?
Based on current exchange rates, car and passengers will pay from $195 to $465 depending on season and time of day. Rail travelers will pay as little as $105 for a mid-afternoon weekday round trip London-Paris to as much as $240 for first-class, peak time travel. In comparison, coach class, roundtrip air fare, London-Paris ranges between $159 and $270.
Aside from cost, the time saving and convenience of rail travel between major cities seems to be Eurotunnel's greatest benefit. Buses and automobiles connecting to ships, hovercraft, hydrofoils and even those using "Le Shuttle" will take longer than the trains. Even greater convenience and time saving will occur as the system is enlarged next summer to include nonstop trips to Germany as well as service to more cities in Great Britain.
What About the Ferries?
One can expect that ferry service between Britain and the Continent will be reduced. Currently 16 million ferry passengers pass through Calais each year. Although efforts are currently being made to speed up the trips and improve the quality of meal service (which in the past has been mediocre to poor), the Dover and Calais car ferries run by P&O and Sealink will be severely impacted. P&O runs 15 boats a day each way, Sealink 18 per day, and Hoverspeed 21 per day. Hoverspeed, which carries automobiles on a 35-minute schedule, is more competitive with "Le Shuttle" than the other ships which take 1.5 hours. Predictions are that half of the ferry runs will be eliminated.
Probably safe for the time being are the overnight ships between Harwich and Hook of Holland, although in a few years, when fast rail connections are complete between Amsterdam and London, these too may be affected. Even so, some ferries will undoubtedly continue to run to serve automobile patrons who may prefer water craft to a trip under water.
Railpass possibilities: Various arrangements may be purchased which make rail travel cheaper and more convenient. A new Europass is available which is tailored to shorter trips and more quality time in fewer places. The pass allows between 5 and 15 days of train travel within the five countries of Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland at a cost, depending on the length of travel, from $280 to $660. Travel to Austria, Portugal and a combination of Belgium and Luxembourg can be added for $22 to $35. Those traveling more frequently by rail will need a Eurailpass which covers unlimited first-class travel in 17 countries for between $498 and $798. Other possibilities include a Eurail Flexipass which allows five days of first-class travel in two months for $348 or a Saverpass which discounts first-class travel for two or more people traveling together. Other plans are available which combine rail travel with car rental. Railpasses may be purchased from most travel agencies.