The Anonymous Widower

Thalys-Eurostar Merger Planned Under Green Speed Initiative

The title of this post is the same as that of this article on Railway Gazette.

This is the first paragraph.

SNCF, SNCB and the Patina Rail investment vehicle announced on September 27 their intention to combine the Eurostar and Thalys high speed rail operations, reporting that outline proposals were being presented to their respective boards.

Eurostar runs or has ambition to run these services.

  • London and Paris Nord via Calais and Lille
  • London and Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy
  • London and Bordeaux via Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy and Tours
  • London and Amsterdam via Calais, Lille, Brussels, Antwerp, Ritterdam and Schipol Airport
  • London and Frankfurt via Calais, Lille, Brussels, Liege, Aachen and Cologne.
  • In Winter services run to skiing resorts.
  • In Summer services run to the sun.

Thalys runs these services.

  • Paris Nord and Amsterdam via Brussels, Antwerp, Ritterdam and Schipol Airport
  • Paris Nord and Cologne via Brussels, Liege and Aachen.
  • Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy and Amsterdam via Brussels, Antwerp, Ritterdam and Schipol Airport
  • In Winter services run to skiing resorts.
  • In Summer services run to the sun.

Eurostar and Thalys seem to have a good fit of routes.

  • Both have two Northern terminals; Amsterdam and Cologne or Frankfurt.
  • Both serve Schipol Airport
  • Both serve Brussels Midi, which is in the city centre.
  • Both serve Paris Nord, which is a large well-connected station just to the North of the city centre.
  • Both serve Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy, which is in Disneyland Paris, has a connect to Charles de Gaulle airport and is a major hub for French TGV services.
  • Both have winter and summer holiday services.

You could almost consider the combined networks to be the following.

  • A high-frequency Paris and Brussels service.
  • Northern branches to Amsterdam and Cologne or Frankfurt.
  • A branch to London via Lille, Calais and the Channel Tunnel.
  • A Southern branch to Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy for Disneyland Paris, Charles de Gaulle airport and onward travel to much of France.

It’s all very simple really and as they say Simple is Efficient.

A few thoughts.

London And Amsterdam Services

As an example, suppose you are going from London to Amsterdam at the present time..

  • There are three direct services taking around four hours.
  • There are four services with a change at Brusseks Midi to Thalys taking ten minutes short of five hours.

You could  catch a direct train, but sometimes, you might have to change at Brussels Midi.

There is no problem with immigration control, as that has been done in London.

Going from Amsterdam to London, services are as follows.

  • There seems to be eight daily services, taking ten minutes short of five hours.
  • They also seem to be very heavily booked.

There is no problem with immigration control, as that is done in a forty-five minute stopover in Brussels.

Experienced travellers, and some following a more relaxed schedule, might appreciate the stopover in Brussels, but most travellers would prefer a direct service through Brussels.

I suspect too that Eurostar or the future joint operator would prefer direct services.

  • It would increase capacity between Brussels and Amsterdam via Antwerp, Rotterdam and Schipol Airport.
  • It would increase domestic capacity.
  • The organisation of the trains and onboard staff would surely be easier.

The only problem, is doing the immigration control on the journey to London.

Solutions have been suggested, where Amsterdam and London services are two half trains; one for domestic passengers and one for those going to London, but I’m sure there is a solution out there.

London And Cologne Or Frankfurt Services

The same rules will apply.

Going out will be easy, but coming back will probably need a change of train at Brussels.

Was There A German Solution?

Some years ago, I remember reading that Deurche Bahn were intending to run services from Amsterdam and Cologne to London, where the two trains divided and combined at Brussels.

Using current Thalys and Eurostar times and assuming a fifteen minute stop at Brussels, would probably have meant these times.

  • London to Amsterdam – four hours and thirty minutes.
  • London to Cologne – four hours and twenty minutes.
  • London to Frankfurt- five hours and forty minutes.

Note.

  1. Amsterdam and Cologne services are fairly similar times, which must improve the utilisation of the trains.
  2. Like Amsterdam, the station in Cologne is in the heart of the historic city.
  3. You can get a train to virtually anywhere in Germany from Cologne. But note that Berlin will be a six-hour journey.

As the London to Amsterdam service has been successful, I’m sure London to Cologne would attract passengers.

Were the Germans going to organise Amsterdam and Cologne services, like this?

  • Each service could be a double-train, which could be joined and split quickly, as some operators do.
  • This train would meet all the Channel Tunnel regulations.
  • Going out from London, the double-train would arrive in Brussels and split with one train going to Amsterdam and the other to Cologne.
  • Going into London,, the two trains would join at Brussels and be just another Brussels to London service.

But as with the Amsterdam service, the major problem is immigration control.

There is also the problem of utilising the spare capacity North of Brussels for inbound services to London, which could increase the cash-flow generated by the services.

Or were the Germans thinking in a more innovative manner?

I do wonder if using double trains from Amsterdam and Cologne, with one train for London and the other for Paris or Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy could have been in the German’s minds.

With some creative joining amd splitting in a long platform at Brussels Midi, could it be made to work?

If Eurostar and Thalys were two parts of the same operator, I suspect that it is more likely that a service pattern will be found, that delivers the following.

  • More direct services between London and Amsterdam and Cologne.
  • Extra capacity between Amsterdam and Cologne and Paris and Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy.
  • More efficient utilisation of trains and oboard staff.

It would surely attract more passengers.

Brussels Midi

Brussels Midi station can be considered to be a prototype for the ideal station on both the main network and the London branch.

It will have to do the following.

  • Handle through services between Landon and Amsterdam and London and Cologne or Frankfurt.
  • Terminate some services between London and Brussels.
  • Allow local passengers to use through services to and from London to access other stations on the route.
  • Handle through services between Paris or Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy and Amsterdam and Paris or Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy and Cologne or Frankfurt.
  • Allow Passengers to and from London to use the other services.
  • Handle immigration for passengers to and from London.
  • Allow a passenger from London to connect to any onward services at the station.
  • Allow a passenger to London to arrive on any train and after checking through immigration catch the train to London.
  • The station has full UK Border Control.

It’s complicated, but I suspect that it’s more of an architectural and train design problem than anything else.

Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy

If Brussels Midi can be made to work efficiently, the same thing can be organised at Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy.

  • It is very close to Disneyland Paris.
  • It has good connection to Charles-de-Gaulle Airport
  • There are ten TGV services to other parts of France.
  • There are two Oiugo low cost high-speed services to other parts of France.
  • There are also some international services.
  • The station has full UK Border Control.

Could the plan be to develop this hub close to the airport, with train services to destinations in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom?

London To Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy

Eurostar already has direct services between London and Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy.

  • Some services going to destinations further South use this route.
  • London to Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy takes two hours forty-nine minutes.

Will the proposed London and Bordeaux service stop at Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy?

  • This would give Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy, will all its connections and attractions another service.
  • If the service stopped at Lille Europe, this would double the High Speed service between Lille and Bordeaux.

Could it be that the London and Bordeaux service will also improve internal French High Speed services?

If SNCF control Eurostar, Thalys and the French TGVs, this must give scope for the services to compliment each other and run economically.

The UK Immigration Control Problem

I can see UK Immigration Control being centred on the following stations.

  • Brussels Midi
  • Lille Europe
  • Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy
  • Paris Nord

These would work as they do now.

Outbound services are not a problem, as it is all handled in London. I have travelled from London to Amsterdam a couple of times and notice how seats vacated in Brussels are used by other passengers between Brussels and The Netherlands.

I believe that it would be possible to develop an efficient system to handle incoming passengers to the UK.

Consider the following.

  • Passengers to and from the UK could be asked for passport details when checking in on-line.
  • Passengers for the UK would use an automatic passport gate, as is common at airports and on Eurostar.
  • Passengers for the UK would sit in a separate part of the train, isolated from the domestic passengers, except in an emergency.
  • If a train stopped at say Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy and Lille Europe, UK Border Force could check passengers on the train between these two stations.

These and other ideas can surely be developed.into a system that would satisfy the most xenophobic of polticians and their supporters.

Conclusion

This proposed merger could be good for High Speed rail in Europe and the UK.

The French government also hopes it could be good for France.

 

 

 

September 30, 2019 - Posted by | Transport | , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. “The only problem, is doing the immigration control on the journey to London.”

    The problem the other way is immigration control at St. Pancras. The UK would never do immigration and customs on the train (like the EU before Schengen), so if you are travelling to Europe from the north you have to go via St. Pancras and so waste hours and deal with officious jobsworths. This lead to the huge fiasco of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightstar_(train). I remember passing the trains in sidings at Old Oak Common – they were sold cheap and unused to Via Rail Canada – what a disgrace.

    Comment by R. Mark Clayton | September 30, 2019 | Reply

    • I have read in a source I trust, that since the Western side of Kings Cross was rebuilt, more passengers are using the train between the East Coast Main Line stations and Paris and Brussels From Manchester, the walk between Euston and St. Pancras probably puts people off! It also depends on the train companies’ policies on late arrivals. GWR can be flexible and I think LNER can be too! But what about Eurostar and Virgin?

      Comment by AnonW | September 30, 2019 | Reply

    • I think that the Nightstar wouldn’t have worked then as Sleepers were going bust all over Europe.

      But they have revived in the UK, Austria, Sweden and all over Eastern Europe. I can see a sleeper leaving London around midnight for Vienna being profitable!

      Comment by AnonW | September 30, 2019 | Reply

  2. Indeed, the night sleepers fell victim to the low-cost carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet as much as anything else. I’ve long thought that there was a gap in the market for a high-quality sleeper solution marketed to compete with flying and a business hotel on routes like London/Frankfurt, Paris/Milan, but the problem is that the service is capital-expensive and ‘fiddly’ to do. However, if you can get economies of scale/network effects, and enough mid-market passengers to fill a train then perhaps the numbers could stack up.

    As for the Thalys-Eurostar merger, it can be seen as a move by SNCF (the majority shareholder) to prop-up it’s position in NW Europe and discourage DB, or any open-access operators from trying to gain a toehold. Whether it’s a beach-head for expansion into Germany or just about consolidation and cost-reduction is another matter, but they will surely want to maximise loadings, and possibly try introducing OuiGo-style services to compete with the budget airlines. On this basis it seems rational that they would expand Brussels as a hub, note that both Charles de Gaulle TGV and Marne La Valee are relatively constrained sites with only 4 platform faces each for TGV servces.

    As for UK services, I guess it will depend on how flexible the UK Government will be? I’ve often though that a radical alternative to redeveloping Euston for HS2 could be to have a tunnel between Old Oak Common and Stratford as “London (West)” and “London (East)” stations, terminating services in Ebbsfleet. That would then permit an end-on connection to continental services, with loads of space for immigration and customs facilities.

    Comment by digitaldeptuk | October 9, 2019 | Reply

    • I agree with a lot you say.

      I do wonder whether high speed services have made sleeper services look slow except over very much longer distances. But I have used a sleeper train as a cheaper substitute for a daytime service and a hotel. Make them high-quality and it opens up all sorts of possibilities. I would use a sleeper from day Munich to London to return home regularly! Provided of course it was not DB’s usual service, which makes GWR Standard look like the Ritz!

      Comment by AnonW | October 9, 2019 | Reply

      • I would have thought that a pan-European night train network would be an ideal one for Accor, with rolling stock maintenance and haulage provisioned to one of the open access freight operators. Could bring a whole new meaning to Ibis Pullman 😉

        Comment by digitaldeptuk | October 9, 2019


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