Eurostar passengers living within a wide area of London and the Home Counties will have easier access to high-speed rail services from autumn of next year.
The train firm has unveiled a new £100 million station at Ebbsfleet in the East Thames Corridor. It's close to the A2 (a trunk road linking London with Dover) and a short drive from the M25/A2 junction at Dartford. It means that travellers living in SE London will have an easy 20 to 30 minute road trip when against the traffic flow which is far less time than it takes to reach St Pancras.
Unlike other stations on the Eurostar network, Ebbsfleet is unashamedly a "park and ride" facility. It will have 6,000 car park spaces when it comes into service with ultimate space for 9,000 vehicles. A selection of Eurostar trains running between St Pancras, Brussels and Paris will call at Ebbsfleet.
Eurostar chief executive Richard Brown told Business Traveller, "People do like to drive to the station just as they do to an airport. The difficulty of car parking is a shortcoming of our existing Waterloo terminal. Ebbsfleet has a catchment area of 10 million passengers extending right around the M25. It will open up new markets for us as it could be an easier alternative to London's airports for people who currently fly."
"With timings [from Ebbsfleet] such as 2hrs 5 mins to Paris and 1 hr 41 mins to Brussels we are now getting down to the runway to runway times being offered by the airlines."
The six-platform Ebbsfleet station is a modern steel and glass building. It's 22 miles from St Pancras and will be under 20 minutes from it when the final stage of the high-speed line opens in autumn 2007. It has tracks for both Eurostar and new high-speed domestic trains which will run between St Pancras and Kent from 2009.
But not everything in the garden is lovely. Passengers currently using Ashford station in Kent will lose out. Services from there to Brussels are being scrapped with those to Paris downgraded once Ebbsfleet opens.
Says Richard Brown, "Ashford is a current gateway for us and some passengers travel a long distance to use it. We've carried out extensive research and this suggests that two-thirds of passengers currently using Ashford will switch to Ebbsfleet. So the number of passengers left doesn't justify keeping the Ashford stop for Brussels services. We need to strike a balance between the two stations."
Another shortcoming is that Ebbsfleet cannot handle local trains because of different power supplies. Access is only by road or by high-speed Kent domestic trains starting in 2009.
Meanwhile Eurostar now says that its other new station, a multi-million pound facility at Stratford, which was supposed to open at the same time as Ebbsfleet will not now open until 2010 at the earliest as the area is currently a building site in preparation for the Olympics.
When it opens Stratford will be a boon for travellers living in areas to the East of London, especially the Canary Wharf area. Says Brown, "We will open Stratford at a later date but first we need to establish good rail and road links to Stratford International [a short distance from the existing Stratford station] before we start services."
A final problem is that the busy A2/M25 junction (a key Ebbsfleet access point) is in the throes of long-term road works and these may cause traffic congestion from time to time.
For more information go to eurostar.com
Report by Alex McWhirter