Tunnel vision: what’s the future for Eurostar?

Q&A with Director of Communications, Mary Walsh

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Hi Mary. First thing, are direct trains to Amsterdam going to happen?
Yes, this is our major focus over the next six months to a year. We’re using the network in the Netherlands, and working with NS, the National Railway there. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of things to finalize, but our plan is to have trains going there next year. They’ll stop at both Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
 
Why those two cities?
The leisure sector is significant but the business market both for Amsterdam and Rotterdam is also very substantial because Amsterdam is home to lots of major tech startups. Rotterdam is a brilliant access point for the Hague where there are HQs for many big businesses. We can’t give a date yet, but we’re aiming for the end of the year/start of next year.
 
You began trips to Marseilles, Avignon and Lyons two years ago. How’s that gone?
It’s been a great success. We appreciate the journey is four-and-a-half, five-and-a-half hours depending on your destination, but people actually look forward to a long journey. They can relax, read, watch something on the iPad, stare out of the window. I don’t think people feel the same about going through airports. It’s also given us great confidence in going for  Amsterdam knowing that, if people are happy to go down to Marseille in six hours, then they’re going to be happy to go to Amsterdam in four.
 
Where else are you looking at? 
The obvious one would be Germany, though there’s no plan at the moment. The more destinations we can go to the better, but we always have to look at the commercial case. How many people can we attract?
 
Eurostar’s great if you live in the south-east. But what about running a service from Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds?
We’ve got to have the volume for it to be viable and I think whenever we’ve looked at that, it’s always been questionable. But we partnership very closely with the other railways, and put together really good competitive fares – you can buy Eurostar tickets from 200 places in the UK. And you’ve got Kings Cross and Euston just a few minutes’ walk away from St Pancras.
 
Paris’s Gare du Nord has never felt like the ideal terminus for Eurostar. Is it improving? 
It is, there’s a huge programme of renovation going on, which will take about ten years in total. Obviously we only have a specified area within the station but we’re nearly at the end of a big development project to expand the departure lounge. We’ve also moved our business lounge to a completely new destination much higher up, and it’s stunning – it’s got all the heritage and historic features of a Parisian apartment. Away from our area, the whole station is being expanded and renovated: I’ve seen the pictures and it’s going to be a significant improvement. 
 
What are the major difficulties you face at the moment? 
For us, it’s all about about the economy. When it’s strong, our business is strong. And what we, like any other business really needs, is stability – any kind of uncertainty impacts. Last year was challenging because of terrorism in various parts of Europe, but we’ve seen a really really strong response this first quarter of 2017. 
 
Then there’s Brexit…
We’ll have to see how it pans out! One of the key things is our ability to continue to have a standardised regime. So at the moment when we put new trains on the track we’re on the same standard with Europe which that makes it easy. It’s very important we preserve that. 
 
What about workers?
We’ve got a lot of non-UK nationals, colleagues from all over the world actually, because we recruit for strong language skills. Certainty is vitally important for those people. In many ways we probably reflect the perspective of many businesses around the UK, particularly those with strong links to Europe. 
 
Are you in competition with other companies who may look at running services through the Channel tunnel? 
We’re not aware of anyone planning to come on the line at the moment but it’s open access so they can. In many ways we’d welcome it. Because anything that raises the awareness and the interest in high speed rail between the UK and mainland Europe is good news for us.
 
Finally, any tips for prospective travellers?
Standard Premier. If you’re traveling for leisure but you want that little bit of luxury, it’s brilliant. It’s very competitively priced: depending on what time of the day you go – and you get breakfast, lunch or dinner. It will always reflect the destinations you’re traveling to, so if you’re going  to London or Paris, it will be a bit French, a bit British. If you’re travelling London to Brussels, we add a little bit of Belgian flavour to it. 
 







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