Close up of the cab of a class 273 Eurostar train in grey and blue livery with yellow cab end

Eurostar suspension: axe or rebirth for Amsterdam service

Sharp end of Eurostar class 273Rob Dammers - WikiCommons

Eurostar is still celebrating the fifth anniversary of achieving its grand ambition, but clouds have formed over the connection to the Netherlands, with an announced cut to both Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Just a few months after the birthday party, a perfect storm is set to derail the capital to continental service. Station redevelopment, a post-pandemic downturn, and the fallout from Brexit have all conspired to jeopardise the Anglo-Dutch service – maybe forever.

There is an uncertain future for the Eurostar services between London and Amsterdam. The international passenger service, famous for traversing the Channel Tunnel between London, Paris and Brussels, has had its challenges over the years, to say the least. Now, with the impending suspension of the Amsterdam service, it seems the operator’s feather in the cap is in danger of being plucked. An eleven-month project, starting in June next year, will see Eurostar absent from the Havenfront, but it might just be the pause it needs for a renaissance.

Yet another operational challenge

The introduction of the London-Amsterdam Eurostar service itself is a relatively recent development, having launched in April 2018. This direct rail link has been lauded as a convenient and eco-friendly alternative to air travel, significantly reducing travel times between the two cities. Moreover, the expansion of the service, together with the second generation fleet of state-of-the-art trains put Eurostar firmly on track. Integration with the Thayls, the high speed operator in western Europe, gave Eurostar wider reach than at any time since its 1994 inception. However, the service has faced one hurdle after another, and while the threat of suspension to the Amsterdam service is hardly the highest, it could be just one jump too many.

Eurostar train on tracks near Rotterdam
Open throttle in open country. There may be a place for Eurostar at Rotterdam, but space there is even more limited than at Amsterdam (Rob Dammers – WikiCommons)

Amsterdam Centraal station, the transportation hub in the heart of the Netherlands biggest city, is less than a year away from a much needed and wide-ranging redevelopment. The modernisation efforts seek to improve infrastructure and accommodate growing domestic passenger numbers. That, however, has posed yet another operational challenge for Eurostar. Post-Brexit security checks at the station require holding space for the entire passenger manifest from each of the four daily trains from London – similar to the arrangements for airline passengers. That space however will be compromised in the modernisation works, leaving Eurostar out in the cold.

Concentrating on its core routes

The pandemic-induced slow recovery in international travel has been financially challenging for Eurostar. The UK government was reluctant to offer the same level of financial bail-out as that afforded to domestic operators, on the grounds of the majority stake held by overseas flag carriers. Nevertheless, figures have been rising and the London-Amsterdam route has proved a success despite all the adverse signals. Observers on the mainland side of the English Channel may say that the service is a victim of the deeply divisive Brexit vote, which monumentally complicated travel between the UK and the rest of Europe.

Dutch authorities require space at Amsterdam Centraal station to carry out transit checks. That space will no longer be available as the venerable railway island is revamped for the twenty-first century. As if that were not enough, collapsing demand has forced Eurostar to announce the ending of its Disneyland Paris service. The company says its concentrating on its core routes – to Paris and Brussels, but is also looking at a south fo France route to Bordeaux.

The developments come in the light of continued improvement in vehicle shuttle services through the tunnel, a separate operation from Eurostar. There is even optimism for further direct Anglo-Continental freight flows. Eurostar may not be shining so brightly right now, but there is a would-be constellation of rivals on the rise. If that translates into a recovered enthusiasm for the multi-national multi-border expresses, then Eurostar might just have cause to celebrate again, in a couple of year’s time.

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Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is UK correspondent for RailTech.com and Railfreight.com

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