A high speed Eurostar train today heralded this weekend’s opening of the first stage of the UK’s long awaited Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) by smashing the London-Paris rail journey time record.
Packed with celebrities and media guests and given a showbiz send-off from London’s Waterloo station, the Eurostar reached Paris in two hours 19 minutes, beating the normal time of two hours 55 minutes.
The record run was a prelude to the start tomorrow of fare-paying passenger services on the €2.74bn, 46-mile link through Kent.
Passengers will not quite be able to reach Paris in the same sort of time achieved today, but the new link will mean the shaving of 20 minutes off the London-Paris journey, which will now be done in two hours 35 minutes.
The link, from Folkestone in Kent to a point near Gravesend in north Kent, will also reduce the London-Brussels Eurostar time by 20 minutes to two hours 20 minutes.
“This special day marks the start of a new era for travel in Europe,” said Eurostar communications director Paul Charles.
He went on: “Time is of the essence for every traveller so the shorter journey times on the new fast line will mean Eurostar is the only way to travel between London, Paris and Brussels.”
The link was officially opened last week by the Prime Minister Tony Blair. The second, €4.62bn, section of the link, running from near Gravesend into London’s St Pancras station, is due to be completed in time for Eurostar services to run on it by 2007.
Completion of the full link will bring the London-Paris time down to two hours 15 minutes and London-Brussels to two hours.
Domestic services in Kent will also benefit from the link with local trains using part of it from 2007.
However, Britain has lagged well behind both France and Belgium in getting its link ready. Only now have Eurostar trains in the UK been able to go at a top speed of 186mph (300 kilometres per hour) whereas these speeds were possible in France as soon as the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994 as the French had their link ready a year earlier.
Similarly the Belgians had theirs running in around 1997 while the UK was still in a lather over the cost of the route and exactly its delineation.