The governments of the Netherlands, France, Belgium and the United Kingdom signed on Tuesday (7 July) an updated version of the Eurostar treaty, which will streamline border checks and shave a full hour off the Amsterdam-London journey time.
Cross-channel rail operator Eurostar launched the UK-Netherlands route back in 2018 but the return trip from Amsterdam has always required passengers to leave the train at Brussels in order to go through passport control.
Following the signing of the updated agreement between the four countries, which includes the non-Schengen UK, passport checks will now be possible in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, so Eurostars can run directly for the first time.
“We are still living in corona times, but of course we also look ahead. Soon you will travel comfortably, easily and therefore quickly by train from Amsterdam to London. No more hassle with checks and delays in Brussels,” said Dutch infrastructure state secretary Stientje v Veldhoven.
UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “As we begin to emerge from one of the greatest international challenges of our time, we are working hard to support the recovery of international transport and tourism sectors.”
The changes should reduce the journey time by up to 60 minutes, matching the three hours and 52 minutes duration of the outward trip from London.
Eurostar had intended to debut the direct service in April but virus lockdown measures slashed passenger demand and the route was suspended. Trains will run in limited numbers as of Thursday (9 July) and the streamlined service is set to come into effect in the autumn.
The company has long harboured plans of extending its network beyond the traditional destinations of Paris and Brussels, and rail advocates hope that the Amsterdam leg will be a stepping stone towards other cities like Berlin or the Nordic capitals.
In June, 25 European countries – the UK not included – signed a pledge geared towards boosting international rail links and leveraging the low-carbon attributes of train travel for the EU’s Green Deal.
The declaration said that EU member states and third countries should work together to improve cross-border services, citing the Eurostar’s Amsterdam link as an example. It added that the UK should be involved, despite ceasing to be a member of the bloc.
State Secretary v Veldhoven also mentioned the climate aspect of train travel, saying that a Eurostar train has roughly twice as many seats as an average plane and CO2 emissions per passenger are considerably lower.”
“This makes the train a really sustainable and fully-fledged alternative to flying,” she added. Countries are looking more seriously at replacing short-haul services with rail, Dutch KLM has started to do it with Brussels flights and Austrian Airlines recently scrapped the Vienna-Salzburg route.
Eurostar has had a significant impact on London-Paris air travel since first starting a full timetable in 1995. Airlines offered 4.8 million seats per year between the two capitals in 1996 but last year’s figure was just 2.7 million seats, signifying a 55% reduction.
Eurostar CEO Mike Cooper said in February of the Amsterdam route that “it’s a huge market, 4.3 million air market at the moment. What’s interesting is that there’s a precise parallel to when we started Paris, it was the same size air market, and look what’s developed since.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]