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St Pancras International
Paris to London in record time on Eurostar
BBC London's Transport Correspondent Andrew Winstanley was one of the lucky few chosen to travel aboard the first Eurostar on the UK's new £5.8bn high-speed line. Here, he writes about the record-breaking journey from Paris to London's St Pancras
by Andrew Winstanley
There was something of a media frenzy around this first high speed trip from Paris to London. I can only compare it to another joint French/British project – Concorde. But then I was reporting the end of an era, not the start of a new one.
Of course there's no guarantee High Speed 1 – the name of the new line – will ever get a brother or sister in the UK because the government hasn't yet committed to any more projects.
Across Europe it's a different picture though, with the French, Germans, and Spanish all boasting far quicker internal services than us. Still this is a start – and what a start it was.
A train pulls in at the new St Pancras station
Richard Brown, Eurostar's Chief, told us he hoped we would all be joining the two hour club – cutting over half an hour off the current 2 hours 35 minutes trip between the capitals. It was an ambitious target, but the line had been cleared ahead of us of any other traffic, and the driver given permission to go above the normal 186 mph limit, up to 200 mph.
The day started with lots of proffered Parisian champagne, and a jazz band trying to set the atmosphere of what would be an historic trip. There were 400 invited guests on board from the media and transport worlds – all rather fortunate guinea pigs for this record-breaking attempt.
Leaving Gare due Nord at 10:44 Paris time the driver, Neil Meare, had his pedal to the metal straight away. Within a matter of minutes we were tearing through the French countryside at speeds up to 202 mph – according to our GPS speedometer anyway.
At those speeds the journey was quite a bit bumpier than usual and walking the train became like a stagger home from the pub on a Friday night. Still you could taste the excitement, amongst staff as well as the passengers.
Train service manager, Sandrine Yvenou, told me she felt privileged to be on board the first fully high speed service between France and Britain.
"It's truly exciting to be part of this record–breaking run to St Pancras," she said.
Another colleague Celine Melisse had more down-to-earth things to consider – like trying to pour coffee at 200 mph without scalding any of the invited VIPs on board.
I was sitting near Rob Holden, London & Continental Railways Chief Executive. He's been with the project for 11 years, but even his experience pales before some of the engineers who've gone grey on this job – some notching up two decades on it.
He and colleagues were swapping stories, mainly about things that had gone wrong, but in the context of such an enormous engineering challenge that's to be expected. And the real success with High Speed 1 has been the agility the designers and builders have shown in getting it completed on time and budget.
St Pancras International opens on 14 November
As we neared St Pancras Station though, it became clear we were just going to miss the 2 hour target, but not by much. In fact as we pulled in the stopwatch read just over 2 hours and 3 minutes – still over half an hour off current journey times.
No one was really disappointed though – it was still a record – and bar a bit of engine trouble and a speed restriction near Calais it had been a great trip. Expect another attempt at the record sometime in the future too.
It won't be as fast when fare paying passengers start using the service from St Pancras but still the trip to Paris will be 2 hours 15 minutes – 20 minutes faster than a non-stop service now.
But these high speed trains aren't just bringing passengers in to St Pancras quicker they also herald real change across the whole the Kings Cross area. There are plans for billions of pounds of further investment. A fantastic example of what can be achieved if there's a will – and the financial backing from government that's really been the key to this whole project's success.
last updated: 18/10/07