The French Connection – St. Pancras

Hornby ‘Eurostar’ train (R2379)

It is said that when the French heard that the first trains to travel under the Channel were to arrive at a station called Water-loo, many assumed they were victims of the English sense of humour. Alas for them, it really was true that they would alight at a station named after the nearby bridge created in celebration of the 1815 battle. However, as Waterloo station comes to terms with the loss of its international status, the humiliation stops. With the revamped St Pancras coming on stream, French passengers will emerge into a station named after a Roman Christian martyr!

After thirteen great years based at Waterloo station, ‘Eurostar’ moved its operational headquarters across London to the former Midland Railway stronghold of St Pancras. What an historic day it was on Wednesday 14th November 2007 when the first scheduled ‘Eurostar’ trains left from this amazing international amphitheatre. Even the French President Sarkozy declared St Pancras International to be the finest station in Europe, if not the world!

Inspiration for this fantastic complex was taken from New York Central station. The original St Pancras station – with William Barlow’s vast, stunning single span roof adjoining Sir George Gilbert Scott’s Victorian Gothic façade – was opened in 1868 to become a London icon. Now it is fully restored to house the 400m long ‘Eurostar’ trains, and given a stunning contemporary twist. Additionally, this station provides easy rail connections to the Midlands and further north.

Yet, we owe this awe-inspiring ensemble to Sir John Betjeman and his fellow campaigners who fought so doggedly to stop the demolition plans in the 1960s. Due to his efforts, St Pancras station was listed as a Grade 1 building of historic and architectural signi-ficance.

The United Kingdom’s first high-speed railway allows trains to unleash their full potential, speeding along at 186mph all the way from London to Paris and Brussels.

Eurostar statistics are very impressive. Two power cars with a tractive effort of 12,200 Kw propel the 800 tonne, 18 coach train to a maximum speed of 300kph/ 186mph. Overall the train is 394 metres long (1,292 feet), 2.8 metres wide (9.2 feet) and contains 794 seats (210 first class, 584 second class).

The train crew – driver, train manager and assistant train manager – are in charge of each Eurostar consist throughout the return trip. Drivers use the language of the railway system the train is travelling through, but can also choose their mother tongue on the train-shore radio link. All the information from the control centre at Lille is displayed in the cab to help the driver observe different speed limits.

As a means of denoting the three European partners in this enterprise, the three blue waves in the corporate image forms an “E”; the star – as a symbol of the future – balances the design and emphasises the excellence of the ‘Eurostar’ service.

Designers and technicians have worked together to create a comfortable and highly functional interior, striving to meet the needs of families travelling together, disabled people, and businessmen with work to do. Extensive research went into the lighting, soundproofing and colour schemes to establish a peaceful and spacious atmosphere ensuring that passengers arrive at their destination feeling relaxed.

Hornby have lovingly created a superb model of the ‘Eurostar’ train (R2379), cap-turing so much of the detail incorporated in the ‘real thing’.

Britain is now firmly linked to Europe’s fast-growing high-speed rail network. Paris and Brussels have joined the ‘two-hour club’, and are closer to London than most of the UK’s major cities.

High Speed 1 draws heavily from the experience the French have gained from around twenty-five years of successful construction. The design of the tracks and the over-head line electrification is licensed from France, and the signalling is French in origin.

That the overall enterprise was completed on time and within budget is a truly magnifi-cent achievement, particularly when considering other major structures – past and future! Rob Holden, Executive Chairman, London & Continental Railways stated that, “It has been a long and exciting journey since the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, stuck a shovel in the ground to turn the first sod on the project in October 1998”.

Art Work: ‘Modern Railways’

It was bitterly cold standing by the original entrance to St Pancras, but just great to be part of the occasion. The sun shone brilliantly through the train shed roof, reflecting on steel frames through the panes of glass as ‘Eurostar’ Chief Executive, Richard Brown – with Greenpeace supporters – named the first ‘Special’ train to Paris as “Tread Lightly”, heading out from Platform 10 at 1101. All these trains are ‘carbon neutral’, at no extra cost to travellers. A ‘Eurostar’ journey emits ten times less carbon dioxide than flying to the same core destinations.

The 1625 ‘Eurostar’ to Paris – Train 9040 – accelerated away from platform six, slowly initially for the 400 metre radius East curve (tightest on whole route) through the ‘box’ tunnel over the Kings Cross throat. Accelera-tion became obvi-ous as the tunnel lights flicked past ever faster – ears popping. Quick ‘gasp’ of Strat-ford, feeling the acceleration get-ting greater all the time, with a strong pulling sense of Three minutes to go. The 1625 to Paris awaits the green signal centrifugal force at the curve towards the ‘drop’ under the Thames on a 25% (1 in 40) gradient. Then “whoosh” into the bore under the river, appreciating that around one quarter of the total distance to the channel is in tunnel before ascending on a similar gradient on approach to Ebbsfleet Station.

The evening sky was clouding over at the end of a perfect day on approach to Nashenden as a London bound ‘Eurostar’ whizzed past before steadily decelerating into Ashford station one minute ahead of schedule. A good three minutes lapsed before departure at Ashford and then it became too dark to keep track of the train for the rest of the run to Paris.

For the return journey the train looked well loaded on departure on time at hard frosted Gare du Nord.

The sun was well up against a very clear blue sky. Near Gonesse suburbia gave way to rural countryside containing flat and fertile fields interspersed with power line pylons running close to the track. Eventually an atmospheric mist hung over the low meadow as the train “swished” across a viaduct and through two short tunnels before emerging into extensive woodland.

Now wisps of cloud in the sky like strands of cotton wool. Wind turbines slowly serenaded their presence near Cruiseller whilst coal waste tips hugged the immediate landscape like dark pyramids. Beyond Sainghin there was the inevitable slow down on approach to Lille. A sharp pull left at 10am under a connecting railway junction before crossing the personally familiar Brussels/ Calais motorway before entering Lille Europe. The mass of tracks consolidates its claim to become the ‘Crewe’ of Europe!

All traces of frost had gone by the time the train left Lille. Very grey and cloudy over the ‘Pas de Calais’ before the weather changed for the worse. This ‘Eurostar’ roared through Rodelinghem on nearing Calais Frethun before applying some braking on nearing the tunnel. Despite the noticeable slowdown, train 9015 shot into the bore, emerging exactly 21 minutes later to bright, warm sunlight and clear blue sky above Kent.

After a dramatic run towards London beneath glorious autumn tints across the Downs, the train arrived two minutes early. Not bad going for 340 miles; just an ordinary day’s journey after the euphoria of Wednesday 14th November 2007.

Roll on ‘High Speed 2’ – hopefully in my lifetime!

By Iain Lamb

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