September 2022, Virtual
September 29 2022, Virtual
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The last leg of the high speed rail link between Brussels and Amsterdam opened this week, cutting journey times significantly. But do the improvements make London-Amsterdam a feasible train trip for business travellers? ABTN investigates.
After a long delay and about one year behind schedule, the last stretch of high speed track between Brussels and Amsterdam opened this week. It has significantly cut Journeys times between the Dutch capital and Brussels and Paris - all part of the network run by train operator Thalys. But while the new journey times are likely to make trips between Paris and Amsterdam train, rather than plane, journeys, will this also be the case for trips between Amsterdam and London?
Advocates of "greener" travel have said this is one the routes that should be seen as a train journey if people are serious about cutting CO2 emissions. But while businesses are increasingly concerned about their green image, there are, for business travellers, other factors, notably cost, time and convenience, to consider. On the evidence of a return trip between the two cities this week, the answer has to be ‘No, this is not a train trip - at least not at the moment'.
On the trip ABTN tested on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, our Eurostar train left from St. Pancras at 12.57 and arrived at Brussels Midi at 16.03. The Thalys left at 16.50 and arrived - or should have done - Amsterdam Centraal at 18.43. Taking into account the hour difference between the UK and the continent, this was a journey of four and 46 minutes with the breakdown as follows:
* two hours six minutes on the Eurostar
* 47 minutes waiting
* one hour 53 minutes on the Thalys.
In the event the Thalys was 20 minutes late, taking the trip to five hours six minutes.
If you throw in the Eurostar advice to turn up at least 30 minutes before departure to collect tickets and clear security and passport control, the time now begins to edge to much nearer six hours.
The return was longer as there was a 79 minute wait at Brussels Midi (although this was shortened by the Thalys again arriving late, this time by 30 minutes). The journey to London took altogether five hours, 19 minutes with the breakdown:
* one hour 56 minutes on the Thalys
* 79 minutes waiting
* two hours, four minutes on Eurostar.
Even by the standard measure that any journey over three or even four hours is regarded as a plane, rather than a train, trip, the London-Amsterdam is well outside this rough gauge. Ticketing is not the problem. Travellers departing from London can either pick up both the Eurostar and Thalys tickets from the machines at St. Pancras or pick up the Thalys tickets at the travel centre at Brussels Midi although this requires some queuing.
From Amsterdam Centraal, both sets of tickets can also be picked up from the ticket office and - unlike Eurostar, there is no requirement to arrive 30 minutes before departure.
But there is one major reason why for the time being at least, business travellers are likely to opt for the plane if going to Amsterdam. Take a look at the Paris-Amsterdam route. The distance from the French capital to Amsterdam is 465miles (748kms) is longer than London to Amsterdam via Brussels: 305 miles (491kms). But the new track has reduced the journey time from four hours nine minutes to three hours 18 minutes, a saving of 51 minutes. This brings it into the scope of a rail trip and it will be interesting to see how air services on this route fare. When the high speed service opened between Paris and Brussels, air services were scrapped and Air France has also cut its London -Paris frequency in the face of Eurostar competition.
The difference is that Paris-Amsterdam is a through train while London-Amsterdam requires a time wasting change. As long as this situation prevails, business travellers are not likely to be very interested.
It is a problem that Eurostar is aware of. It told ABTN that it was in regular talks with Thalys about improving the co-ordination of timetables to cut, at least, the waiting time. But its real goal is the through train. Richard Brown, Eurostar's ceo, has declared this as an aspiration. But, sadly, this is likely to be some years off.