On my recent trip to London, Brussels, Paris and the Mosel Valley, I used two high-speed trains:
Eurostar, London – Brussels. Eurostar had a bad day. A morning train hit a person on the track between Ebbsfleet and Ashford, and as a result, the high-speed line closed down for a four-hour period. You can’t fault Eurostar because someone jumped in front of one of its trains, but you can fault it for failure to communicate with travelers about alternatives and for a two-hour long line at St. Pancras to reach an agent. In addition, for some reason, Eurostar didn’t reroute trains over conventional lines–maybe it couldn’t do that–and instead canceled a bunch of departures. I never thought I’d say this, but Eurostar could take a lesson from airlines about dealing with sudden cancellations and delays.
My afternoon train operated, departing a bit over an hour late. And, as usual, the product was excellent. A tad over two hours on a train from central London to central Brussels is much better than flying. Seating in standard (second) class is not roomy; seats are only an inch or so wider than economy air seats, but because all seats are in a two-by-two arrangement, with no middles, they’re far less cramped. Legroom beats the airlines a bit, as well. The nominal advance purchase fare of $78 is higher than the roughly $50 asking price on EasyJet, but once you figure in the costs of getting to Stansted or Luton, plus all the schlepping, Eurostar is still the better deal.
TGV, Brussels – Paris/Charles de Gaulle. My return flight from Europe departed from de Gaulle, so I had no interest in schlepping into a central Paris hotel. Although Thayls has a monopoly on trains from Brussels to central Paris, some French TGV trains run from Brussels through to central and southern France, with stops at Lille Europe and de Gaulle (as well as Chessy/Disneyland). I’ve found that some advance purchase TGV fares are a few dollars less in “comfort” class than in standard class ($63 rather than $76). Comfort class seats you in a first class car but without any of the other first class extras. Seating is a comfortable one-by-two arrangement, with lots of legroom, and that one-seat side is great for a solo traveler. Under those circumstances, comfort class is a no-brainer — a better product at a lower price. What’s not to like? The trip was typical TGV. It was on time, fast and altogether a great way to travel.
I also used a conventional train from Luton, my arrival airport, to central London. The rail station for Luton airport is a five-minute shuttle bus trip from the air terminal, trains run every 15 minutes or so, they take about 35 minutes to St. Pancras, and the fare, including the shuttle, is about $25. You buy a ticket at a kiosk in the airport; my U.S. credit card worked without a problem. As with the conventional trains to/from Gatwick, the Luton trains are not specially equipped for air travelers with their baggage, but most times, the train has ample room.
— Ed Perkins, editor