By Anna Gouldman
Even for the elite, high-speed rail is the new ‘in’ way to travel with convenience, speed and punctuality being top priorities for today’s time-conscious travellers. Indeed trains can be faster, cheaper and far more convenient than flying or driving when your point of call is the centre of a capital city. The idea of taking a train may not seem as attractive to American travellers with their experience of the notoriously unreliable Amtrak Rail, however in both Europe and the Far East, trains are a very convenient and practical way of getting around. High-speed trains can be the ideal choice for busy business travellers or adventure-seeking leisure travellers who are looking to see that little bit more of Europe.
Eurostar, the high-speed train service that carries passengers between the UK, France and Belgium uses the French-designed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) high speed train model. The TGV system is owned and operated by SNCF, the French national railways, and is an integral part of French rail travel.
The most striking aspect of the TGV model is the aerodynamic styling of the nose, designed to increase speed. The cars also have only two axles, instead of the traditional four, which makes the cars lighter.
TGV trains are electrically powered and rely on a computerized signaling system.
New high-speed tracks on the U.K. side have cut the trip times by 2 hours 25 minutes, down to two hours and 15 minutes between London and Brussels, and two hours and 35 minutes between London and Paris. Over 4,500 trains have now run on the new line.
So why has high-speed become so popular in the UK? Gareth Headon, Eurostar Corporate Communications, Eurostar, commented: “Quite simply, it’s convenience and seamless travel. We have got city to city centre in 2 hours and 35 minutes. This time is uninterrupted, so business travellers can be productive on their lap tops at all times”.
He continued: “Our check in time is getting shorter. It is down to ten minutes from 15 minutes if you live in the UK. We can do this because of our unique proposition. We can make our journey shorter and we can make the journey faster. This is something that airlines can’t do”.
Alain Van West, Director of International Sales, Eurostar, added: “From an international perspective, Eurostar is just as important for leisure travellers. We can offer Americans who are in the UK the opportunity to get up at a reasonable time and travel to Paris and back in one day. It is such an exciting prospect to now be able to add Paris to your itinerary and the fact that it’s high-speed rail.”
Eurostar runs from city centre stations, which saves travellers taxi fares to the city centre from their hotel. Advance check-in time for the train is 30 minutes, (or 10 minutes if for business class travellers) instead of at least one hour for a flight. You can avoid hanging around the departure lounge if you travel on the train. For many travellers, lower stress and fewer hassles are at least as important as time and money.
If you book in the US, prices begin $90 for standard class with some restrictions involved. The international fare range has been mirrored on the UK fare range but the conditions are adapted to suit the market needs.
Apparently, a lot of travellers have begun to realise the benefits: Eurostar has increased its market share by 64% of the passengers on the London-Paris route and 47% of the passengers on the London-Brussels route. Airline competitors continue to cut flights on Eurostar routes.
Van West commented:“The effect of high-speed has been phenomenal - we are up 15% in Q4 last year on the same the year before. passenger levels Q1 of last year and our Market share is going up”.
Gareth Headen attributes this surge in passenger levels to recent improvements which have led to a more seamless journey: “A lot of the press last year were talking about a re-birth and it’s certainly no exaggeration that this huge change took place. When the new line opened you had a faster journey time with greater punctuality. People want a journey that’s fast and that will arrive when you tell them that it will.”
Van West commented: “We made Eurostar more affordable to international passengers and we have made it easier to book the service through GDSs and Eurostar.com. That has contributed greatly to the increase in passengers in the international markets”.
He continued: “We have also just rolled out a GDS tool where we display as an airline with airline type of prices. We went in through a normal ARC model in Europe. The sales have gone very well in the US”.
To accomodate internet-savvy consumers, Eurostar have made improvements to their website (which now takes 20% of bookings from the UK) and recently signed a deal with lastminute.com.
Eurostar has also teamed up with nine partner air carriers to introduce GDS booking capability for its high-speed services between London, Paris and Brussels when reserved by non-European agents in conjunction with overseas flights.
In the coming months, Eurostar are re-furbishing their full fleet of trains which will see the addition of power points for lap tops on individual seats throughout 1st class. Eurostar will also be trialing WiFi later in the year, with a view to rolling out the technology next year.
High-Speed rail is evolving rapidly and travellers are beginning to catch on. Eurostar believes that anyone in the world who travels throughout Europe by plane could potentially be a future Eurostar passenger.