Star Power 2-29-2008

London is now (much) closer to Paris and Brussels

By: John Clayton

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Guestrooms London’s convenient St. Pancras
Station has been remodeled.
London, Paris and Brussels just got a whole lot closer thanks to Eurostar’s new railroad bed, High Speed 1.

Travel times between London, Paris and Brussels have been dramatically reduced London to Paris is now only two hours and 15 minutes and London to Brussels is a sizzling one hour 50 minutes away and it’s all done at a speed of 186 mph. Eurostar’s new London St. Pancras Station also reduces time.

A major reason for this increase has been the building (over the past few years) of a high-speed rail bed from St. Pancras that goes under a major portion of London, and then comes out in the countryside. When Eurostar trains departed from Waterloo station (Eurostar’s home since 1994) it was not possible to attain these speeds due to the route of travel. Now, with the glittering remodeled St. Pancras station, a new age in super-fast train travel has been reached. Additionally, many trains from the north of England now also arrive in St. Pancras, which means a dramatic savings in time from those destinations for passengers wanting to get to Europe by train.

I was aboard one of the first Eurostar trains to leave St. Pancras last November bound for Paris, and as a train buff, it was a thrilling experience to see how modern, and how awesome, St. Pancras station now looks. It is indeed a destination in itself, with a huge array of shops that include a crepe cafe, Starbucks, bookstores, Marks and Spencer, fashion stores, sushi, a farmer’s market and the longest champagne bar in Europe. Even if you’re not heading off to Europe on Eurostar, St. Pancras is a superb place to dine, shop and have fun.

Originally built in 1863, the station had the largest single-span roof of enclosed space in the world. In the late 1960s, it was threatened with demolition, but through the efforts of famed British poet Sir John Betjeman, this historic building was saved and its recent rejuvenation now makes St. Pancras (and its awe-inspiring, glass-and-steel girder roof) one of the major train stations not only in London, but in all of England.

Taking a commercial flight from London to Brussels or Paris means a long and often frustrating drive to and from the airport, lengthy security delays and the possibility of equally long delays on the runway before takeoff a journey that could easily take many hours of stressful travel. Traveling by Eurostar translates not only into big savings in time when compared to travel by plane, but also a stress-free, relaxing journey. And, whether you’ve done it once or numerous times, the 20-minute part of the trip through and under the English Channel is still a unique and intriguing experience.

Each 18-car Eurostar train carries up to 750 travelers (double the capacity of a Boeing 747, or five short-haul, 150-seat B737) and there are 18 departures a day. If you travel, as I did, in Leisure Select, expect a delicious luncheon served at your seat, along with a nice choice of wine. Roundtrip fares between London and Paris start at $101.

Travel agent commissions start at 5 percent on electronic bookings. For any travel agent who has not yet had the opportunity to try the new Eurostar route from St. Pancras, I urge you to do it as soon as you can, as it’s exhilarating, fun and fast but be sure to allow enough time to shop the vast new assortment of amusing, very diverse and well-stocked stores that abound in the new St. Pancras.