Cross-Channel rail operator Eurostar operated its first direct service between Amsterdam and London on Monday (26 October), nearly a year later than originally scheduled. However, due to the worsening health crisis, the train ran nearly empty between the two capitals.
At 07:47am on Monday morning, the first train under the new regime left Amsterdam Central station. Previous journeys obligated passengers to change trains in Brussels in order to go through passport checks.
But now there are border controls in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the two Dutch stops on the Eurostar itinerary, which means train travellers can board in the Dutch capital and arrive in London a shade over four hours later.
The Dutch government has taken its time putting in place the right measures. Trains have run from London to Amsterdam since 2018 but an all-important treaty between the UK, France and Belgium only added the Netherlands to its signatories in July this year.
When trains first started running, adding a fourth country to the high-speed train company’s network, politicians were ready and waiting at London’s St Pancras rail terminal with Union Jacks and soundbites for the media. This time, there were no such festivities.
Eurostar opened up bookings for the new service in September but due to pandemic-related restrictions, the first train was largely empty, as only essential travel is advised between mainland Europe and the UK.
Train services are generally struggling with a reduction in passenger numbers caused by the pandemic and Eurostar has had to scale back its timetable to reflect the fall-off in demand.
However, it has not put the brakes on the plans to merge with Franco-Belgian counterpart Thalys next year. The new company will be called ‘Greenspeed’ and aims to drive even more passengers from short-haul flights to high-speed rail.
“The scale of the climate emergency and the need for environmentally-friendly mobility demands an even more ambitious response from us,” SNCF President Guillaume Pepy, whose company has a stake in both firms, explained in September.
“By bringing together the combined strengths of these two operators, we are ushering in a new era of high-speed rail in Europe,” he added.
Greenspeed will merge Eurostar and Thalys onto a shared network and set up shared loyalty programmes, as well as integrated ticketing. Eventually, the aim is to add new routes and maybe finally achieve the much-anticipated direct link between the UK and Germany.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]