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Anonymous3 Jan 2008
An early morning train to Paris, and my first chance to try taking a Eurostar from the new St Pancras station and Eurostar. I commute daily into and from London St Pancras, using what was, until recently, Midland Mainline, but now is East Midlands Trains. My departure to Paris was 0630, and since the first East Midlands train from the north arrives too late to make the connection, I used a Capital First Connect (previously Thameslink) service which continues to run through the night and early morning. The station for this service used to be a short walk from St Pancras on the other side of London Kings Cross and was referred to as Kings Cross Thameslink. It was a disgrace, an underground station that was open to the skies. It had thin curving platforms, poor information displays and was so dimly lit that every evening it was used by drunken passengers as an open air toilet as they waited for their delayed trains. The new station under St Pancras doesn’t have to do much to be an improvement. It has wide platforms, good displays and is well lit. But why is there only one escalator up from the platform onto the upper level so people have to take the stairs or queue?
The exit brings you up at the north end of the new St Pancras station (where, for those looking to buy food and drink before a journey, there’s a second, far less crowded and larger Marks & Spencer to supplement the one on the main concourse.)
I had a ticket to collect, though normally e-tickets can be printed form self service machines. While I was at the ticket office I bought a day pass for the Metro (3 zone, £6.50). As before at the old Waterloo station, the security at Eurostar is quicker than at most airports, and does not require the removal of shoes, or laptops from bags. One point, though. Don’t pass through until you need to. Once through security, you can’t return, and facilities are lacking. I was hoping for a bureau de change, but there isn’t even a cash point/ ATM. Instead, even at 0600 you’ll find a queue snaking out of a Café Nero (no fresh pastries at this time), and a small WH Smith, which lacked the morning papers even though they were for sale in the main station. There is, however, a long counter with seats at which you can sit and work with plugs (both UK and Continental) for laptops.
Our journey over to Paris was uneventful (and on time), though the standard carriage lacked anyway power supply. After my meeting in Paris, I returned on a mid-afternoon service. (One tip, if travelling on a standard ticket – an American Express platinum card gains you access to the business class lounge). On the way back, power was supplied, so I could catch up on work on my laptop. It was dark outside by the time we pulled into London, so I was surprised by the announcement that we were about to pull into London St Pancras. I made my way to the end of the carriage with many others, then found that we had stopped at Ebbsfleet. Since many others had also collected their luggage, it was difficult to return to my seat, but as I did so a Eurostar employee was trying to make his way along the carriage the other way, complaining in a loud voice that everyone was blocking the causeway. I asked him why the incorrect announcement hadn’t been contradicted to clarify the situation for some very confused tourists. He ignored me. It was a disappointing end. It seems that even with the most forward of train companies, there’s still the attitude among a minority of staff that everything is the customer’s fault. Still, there were many good points on the trip. We pulled in to St Pancras around 20 minutes late, but the service was an excellent one, the staff were excellent (with one exception), and if there were only a few more facilities post security in St Pancras, it couldn’t be faulted. St Pancras is still a work in progress (some of the shops and restaurants won’t open until the second quarter of 2008, but it’s still worth celebrating. Now let’s hold our breath for Terminal 5 at Heathrow.3 Jan 2008
St.Pancras is a real destination in itself; featuring Europe’s longest Champagne Bar.
I really like what they have done with the space; proof that UK plc can still create something beautiful, yet functional marrying the best of the past whilst incorporating a sense of modernity. Bravo!
It is also worth mentioning the excellent value Leisure Select fares, usually for off peak travel, which grant you access to the First Class seats and include drinks (and champers) and a light meal.
Usually about 30% more than a regular fare, but if you were planning on buyings omething to eat and drink anyway, the extra is well worth it for the peace, space and more generous 2-1 seating configuration.
I have also found purchasing in Euros or Dollars can reduce the fare marginally.
No lounge access on Leisure Select fares, but Amex Plat takes care of that nicely.6 Jan 2008
One addition to this piece. I mentioned that the Marks & Spencer at this end of the station was much quieter than the other outlet. Too quiet, as it turned out. It seems to have been mothballed for the moment – perhaps it will reopen when this end of the station is fully developed.7 Jan 2008