Thursday, 25 October 2007

Lost Battle of Waterloo

Eurostar is counting down to the launch of its new terminal at St Pancras on November 18. As I write there are - according to the website - just 19 days 9 hours and 23 minutes to go. I wish that clock would stop. I can wait. I do not mind staying on the train to Waterloo even if it takes 15 minutes or even an hour longer.

Forgive me for not cracking open the bubbly. Call me selfish but redirecting the Eurostar to ‘St Pancras International’ is not a cause for celebration as far as I am concerned, however big or bright or beautiful the new station is and despite it having 'The Longest Champagne Bar in Europe'.

Right now I can do Paris to London door-to-door with literally no sweat, even with baggage, pushchair and a toddler insisting I carry her and her Dora the Explorer backpack. From November 18, I will have to cart the above across or under the whole of Central London. I am so depressed and in denial about this I have not yet bothered to work out how it can be done apart from stumping up a small fortune for a taxi. I fear I will be forced underground into that particular circle of hell, the Northern Line, or the awful Victoria Line. On a recent trip, realising I needed to face reality, I asked a Eurostar person how I could get from St Pancras to south London. She looked at me blankly and said it was “up to passengers to make their own way to and from the Eurostar”. Very helpful. Another Eurostar employee said he thought “British Rail” (does it still exist?) was planning a link from St Pancras to the south and south west. He added it would not be built for several years. "If ever," I thought.

Part of the thinking behind putting the Eurostar terminal in north London – the opposite side of the city to the nearest point of France – is to give visitors access to the north of England. The Eurostar website boasts “London and Beyond”, vaunting the accessibility of Rugby, Leicester, Peterborough, Luton and Cambridge. I have nothing against these places, but I would venture a bet that the majority of people on a London-bound Eurostar are going to London to see London. The majority, I said, not all. A large number of passengers are either on business and their business is in London – otherwise surely they would fly – or they are tourists. Tourists may want to visit the north, south, east and west extremes of England, not to mention Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and why not? But most will do so after they have ‘done’ London. I have had countless conversations on Eurostar trains in the last few years and I have yet to meet anyone planning to leap off and immediately head north. As for St Pancras being easier for those in the north wanting to get to France, no-frills airlines are even easier and cheaper.

In Paris, there is a logic to the location of railway stations: trains from the Gare du Nord go, you guessed, north; trains from the Gare de l’Est, east; from the Gare de Lyon, south and from Gare St-Lazare, west. Why, when some Eurostar trains stop at Calais, some stop at Lille, some stop at Ashford and some are going to stop at a new station in Kent called Ebbsfleet as well, is it not possible for some Eurostar trains, just one or two, to stop at Waterloo?

The very thought of struggling across London with that Dora the Explorer rucksack – the last straw - makes me want to lie down exhausted. Why I am ranting when I should be saving my breath?

It is now 19 days 7 hours 55 minutes and counting.

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