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Living the Eurostar dream

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When the Channel Tunnel was first unveiled in a fanfare of excitement back in 1994, it gave a whole new meaning to Inter-railing for British travellers, because now we could travel by train from our home towns to anywhere in Europe without having to take a break for that pesky bit of water cutting us off from our European friends.

Well, that was the idea, anyway. The huge costs incurred in its creation meant that prices were well out of reach of the average Inter-rail target audience to begin with and soon became a commuter service for the elite, ferrying businessmen and women between London, Paris and Brussels. But that wasn't particularly profitable either.

So the bosses at Eurostar have come up with a cracking new plan - trains of the passenger service (that's Eurostar to the uninitiated - Eurotunnel operates the vehicle version) will leave from St Pancras station in north London instead of Waterloo south of the river.

Apparently, this approach will result in a huge number of Britons seeking to travel on the service because they will be able to arrive from anywhere in the North and step straight onto a Eurostar train. The move has also helped to cut the time it now takes to get to the continent, with half an hour being shaved off the trip to Paris thanks to the new, upgraded track which is able to cope with the Eurostar's French TGV technology.

Of course, anyone who travels into London and doesn't arrive at St Pancras will now face the task of navigating round the underground to the station, only to get there and discover they have to work out how to get through the maze from their tube's platform through the joint station of King's Cross St Pancras and eventually to the new Eurostar terminal. That won't be easy, but then Waterloo at rush hour was never a walk in the park either.

There's no doubting that the notion behind Eurostar is a romantic concept - travelling in style through some of the most impressive cities in the world to your chosen destination - but I think the promoters may have gone a bit over the top with their efforts to get more people to the new St Pancras terminal. Singers, an orchestra and giant screens accompanied the opening ceremony as the British did their best to show off their latest project to the French, with a concerted theme of romance about the whole event.

Perhaps central to this is the Meeting Place statue - portraying two lovers entwined after a long trip. And all this as the Queen told of the "remarkable reverse of this great and gleaming station". Sir Richard Branson would die for this kind of publicity.

But time will tell whether this showy ceremony can boost Eurostar's profit margins in the long-term. With the modern world being one in the grip of an instant-gratification culture, for many people the idea of enjoying the trip is a novel one - most go to feel what it's like when you're there, not while you’re getting there. Maybe Eurostar can change that perception. If so, it could be onto a winner, but if not, the time may come when the engineering feat of the Channel Tunnel becomes consigned to history, for the foot passenger at least.


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