Tried & Tested

Rail check: Thalys Comfort One

30 Nov 2012 by BusinessTraveller

BACKGROUND Thalys’s high-speed trains link Amsterdam, Brussels, Cologne, Paris and 15 other European cities. UK customers can join the network by travelling from London with Eurostar (eurostar.com) to Brussels or Paris – to reach Amsterdam, it is quicker to connect via Brussels, where there are up to 11 daily services. Thalys’s PBKA trains have two classes: Comfort One (business) and Comfort Two (standard).

DEPARTURE I arrived at Brussels Midi at 1105 via Eurostar from St Pancras International. It had been announced onboard that I would need to go to platform five for my onward Thalys service to Amsterdam. The Thalys lounge at Midi can only be accessed by members of Thalys’s The Card loyalty scheme, which is free to join – Comfort One passengers cannot use it without a membership. This is also the case with Thalys’s Paris lounge, but its lounges in Amsterdam Central, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Essen, Rotterdam and Schiphol are accessible to Comfort One passengers. Not being a member, I waited on the platform for my 1152 departure. The train arrived at 1145, allowing time for passengers to board. Members of staff disembarked to greet boarders and direct them to their seats. We left on time.

THE SEAT Each train has eight coaches, three of which are Comfort One, and the rest are Comfort Two. I had seat 31 in coach 12. It was a backward-facing window seat, in the fifth of 13 rows, and was one of the single seats, the carriage configuration being 2-1. The scarlet and maroon upholstered chair had a rather glamorous look, and the wall had light panels that faded from purple to pink. The seat felt wide, at 25.7 inches (65.2cm), I had room to stretch my legs out (the pitch was 30.5in/77.5cm), and it reclined six degrees by sliding forward rather than tilting backwards. There was also a velvety cushioned headrest, a reading light and a magazine slot in the back of the seat in front.

Tables are a mix of full-size or fold-down depending on where you are sitting. My fold-down table was good for working on a laptop, and there was an individual European plug socket at each seat. Luggage with dimensions similar to that of hand baggage for short-haul flights can be stored in the overhead rack, while two additional pieces of luggage per passenger are also allowed. There is no weight limit, but cases must be no longer or wider than 33in/85cm.

THE JOURNEY Food was served straight away – for journeys of more than 50 minutes, Comfort One passengers receive a free “full or light” meal. Comfort Two passengers buy snacks and drinks from the Thalys bar. I was offered a choice of soft and hot drinks, beer or wine (a Sauvignon, Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon), and the meal was served with a walnut bread roll on a tray with metal cutlery. My starter was courgette terrine with mint and tomato coulis, and my main was poultry mousseline with tomato confit, rocket pesto, organic quinoa salad, feta cheese and courgette royale with herbs (there was also a vegetarian option). Dessert was a wobbly white chocolate dessert with caramelised apricot inside. It was a good menu with fresh ingredients. A second round of drinks was offered half an hour after. Service was good overall – there were bilingual attendants, and some were friendly, asking if there was anything passengers needed.

Thalys offers free wifi to Comfort One passengers (€6.50 per hour for Comfort Two passengers, or €13 for access for the entire journey, whatever the length). You need to register at thalys.com, so do this before you travel. I wasn’t aware of this, and so only used the wifi on my return journey, during which it worked well – it was fast, and I only lost connection once. There were three stops throughout the journey (including Amsterdam Schiphol) and views were mainly of grassy suburban areas. The carriage was quiet, although there was a dog on board that barked occasionally.

ARRIVAL We arrived at Amsterdam Central on time at 1345.

VERDICT A quality product – I was impressed with the seat and the food, although the need to pre-register for wifi and for membership to use the lounge creates obstacles for customers. Whether the journey is more convenient than the hour-long flight from London to Amsterdam depends on how long it takes you to reach Eurostar’s UK stations compared with the airports – you travel between city centres and avoid spending time at the airport, but there is a much longer journey time. It can also be more expensive travelling by rail depending on the flexibility and class of your ticket. It’s a pleasant way to travel between cities on the continent.

Fact file

  • Journey time four hours 39 minutes (London-Brussels two hours, 47-minute transit time, Brussels-Amsterdam one hour 52 minutes)
  • Train type Thalys PBKA
  • Configuration 2-1
  • Seat width 25.7in/65.2cm
  • Seat pitch 30.5in/77.5cm
  • Price Internet rates for a return journey in Business Premier on Eurostar and Thalys Comfort One from London to Amsterdam in February ranged between £577 and £683 depending on flexibility. Travel in Eurostar standard class (legs must be booked separately to do this) and the price is between £156 and £443.
  • Contact raileurope.co.uk
Rose Dykins
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