The Anonymous Widower

What Do You Do With An Unwanted Eurostar Train?

In Edition 865 of Rail Magazine, there is a short article which is entitled Eurostar ‘373s’ Leased To Thalys.

This is the first paragraph.

Class 373s that were due to be scrapped have instead been leased to Thalys for a year.

Class 373 trains and Thalys rolling stock are very similar, as both were built by GEC-Alsthom around the same time.

So just as ScotRail borrowed a few Class 365 trains to make up for a shortage, Thalys are borrowing a pair of Class 373 trains.

I wonder if passengers between Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, that they are getting a train, that was destined for the scrapyard?

November 7, 2018 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

ERTMS Rollout Between London-Paris-Brussels Agreed

The title of this post, is the same as that of this article on Global Rail News.

This is the first paragraph.

An agreement has been reached by the infrastructure managers of the high-speed railway between London, Paris and Brussels – one of Europe’s busiest routes – to coordinate the rollout of European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).

Rollout of ERTMS on these important routes must surely be a good idea, if it can enable extra and faster services on these busy routes.

July 24, 2018 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brussels Station Has Got A Whole Lot Worse!

I think in future, if I have the choice of Eurostar terminals in Europe, I won’t be choosing Brussels!

I arrived in Brussels with about three hours to waste before my train to London left.

So I thought, I’d perhaps take a Metro train somewhere sensible and have coffee and breakfast. There’s nothing in the station that is gluten-free, so forget that one!

But they’ve changed the ticketing on the Metro and it looks like you need to use an Oyster-style ticket. I don’t do those sorts of things, as usually ou have to load a lot mopre money than the ticket and when you go back, you of course forget the card.

Why can’t these places allowed a contactless bankcard as a ticket like London?

So I thought, I’d go to the Tourist Office upstairs and complain! But that has been closed.

I tried the guy doing the train information for Belgian Railways and he couldn’t help. He also told me, he was fed up with the situation.

The Tourist Office is some distance away and you need to use the Metro.

So only go through Brussels, if you don’t want to use the Metro, get advice from the Tourist Office or eat something that is gluten-free.

I couldn’t even find a McDonalds, where I could buy some gluten-free chips.

If Brussels station is going to go downhill like this, the sooner, that Cologne is a Eurostar destination the better.

May 15, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , | 3 Comments

Disappointing Cologne

Cologne and its station disappointed me.

I was hungry and the hotel wasn’t exactly brimming with gluten-free food options. Or guests for that matter.

In fact, the whole city centre was dead.

Was everybody tucked up in bed watching the vEurovision Song Contest or because of the attacks in the city centre in the New Year, does everybody not go there any more.

In the end, I got supper in an Argentinian steak house, where the food was a lot better than the service.

In the morning, I didn’t have a ticket, so I arrived at the station a bit early, only to find that the machines didn’t seem to see the ticket I wanted and the ticket office wasn’t open.

It was a repeat of the customer service of the night before.

There are a couple of things to note in the pictures.

  • I had to go through all the rigmarole of getting a number to buy a ticket.
  • I had masses of paper for my ticket compared to what I get in the UK.
  • Comfortable seats were thin on the ground.
  • There was a smoking area on the platform.
  • Lots of trains seemed to be locomotive-hauled.

Eventually, I arrived in Brussels with plenty of time to spare.

But surely the biggest disappointment about Cologne is why the Germans haven’t developed it as a gateway for Cross-Channel passengers.

Consider.

  • Cologne has very good connections to major German cities like Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich, which are much better than those from Brussels or Paris.
  • A lot of visitors to Germany from the UK, may be going to Cologne anyway, so why force them to change trains in Brussels?
  • According to the Demographics of Cologne, the city has around a million inhabitants and is in a region of three million.
  • Cologne is about the same size as Birmingham, Glasgow or Liverpool/Manchester, so it could probably sustain a direct service.
  • If you need to waste an hour or so in Cologne, whilst changing trains, you are by the cathedral and the Rhine.
  • Cologne to London by train must be around four hours, which must be very competitive with flying.
  • A Sleeper train between London and Cologne would probably work. I’d use it!

I think the Germans can’t be bothered, as they’d have more passengers to cater for, who knew about customer service.

I know there’s the problem of Customs and Immigration, but if Deutsche Bahn were serious about running a service, I’m sure the problems are solvable.

I’ve been through small airports where excellent, efficient and probably very thorough systems had been setup to encourage traffic.

The problem could of course be the UK Border Force, who in my experience don’t seem to be the best in the world.

But then, the world needs to develop fast, efficient, automatic border checks, that I’m certain if we got right, would actually discourage illegal immigration.

As it is, we set up such weak checks, that they encourage criminals to encourage and fleece, those that might want to come to countries, where work might be available.

 

May 15, 2016 Posted by | Travel, World | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back From The Hague

Before I left on Thursday, I wrote Off To The Hague Today and started the post like this.

Is there any other train journey between two capitals in the world, that is more difficult now than it was six or seven years ago?

It certainly doesn’t get any better.

Arriving in Brussels, the hourly train to Antwerp and The Hague left in half an hour, so I thought if I could get a ticket to The Hague, I might go direct.

So I tried a machine. But these only sell tickets to Belgium.

Ticket Office?

The queues were horrendous, so I got on the train to Antwerp as my Any Belgium Ticket would get me there!

At Antwerp, I took half an hour to buy a ticket and after a lunch of nuts and the worst coffee, I’ve ever had, I caught the next train to Den Haag HS, where I changed for Den Haag Laan van Nieuwe Oost Indie.

Express train it is not! On this main InterCity route, some of it has a speed limit of just 100 kph. Even London to Ipswich is a 160 kph line.

Coming back, there were a few delays and it took exactly four hours from the time I got on the InterCity train at Den Haag HS before I was on my on-time Eurostar leaving Brussels. Admittedly, forty-five minutes of so was checking-in and waiting for the Eurostar.

Incidentally, Den Haag to Brussels in 172.9 km. and can be driven in two hours.

London to Birmingham is actually slightly further and Virgin does it around 85 minutes.

If that isn’t a disgrace, I’m a Dutchman!

What wasn’t a disgrace was the food on Eurostar!

I’d forgot to ask for a gluten-free meal, but I was assured the main course was gluten-free. I’m pretty certain it was and it was also delicious.

So at least the last part of the journey went well and we arrived in St. Pancras on time!

Passenger services through the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994, with services to and from St. Pancras starting in November 2007.

The new Class 374 trains to start a service to Amsterdam and Cologne are now sitting in sidings, with services supposed to start at the end of 2016.

Judging by the history of the development of services to places other than London, Brussels and Paris, I suspect that date will slip to somewhere about 2026 or even 2036.

The biggest problem seems to be the multiplicity of different electrical systems between France, Germany and The Netherlands. At least we chose our 25kVAC overhead system is the same as the French and has been since at least the 1960s.

I despair, that I’ll ever take a High Speed train direct to Rotterdam and then take a local train to The Hague.

No wonder the EU is such a mess, if the UK, Belgium, France, Germany and The Netherlands can’t agree on something purely technical like a connecting railway.

 

 

October 11, 2015 Posted by | Food, Travel | , , , , | 2 Comments

Being Wise After The Event

The last two days of this trip were a bit hurried. Thinking about it a couple of days after I returned, I think I should have given myself another night in Berlin and come home via Cologne on the Friday.

This is possible at a cost of €154 in First Class leaving Berlin at 10:47. And then you have another  for €99  Standard Premier on the Eurostar. This totals at €253

Alternatively you can buy the Berlin to Cologne ticket from DB for €117 and then buy a ticket from Cologne to London on Eurostar for €114.  This route costs €231 and allows you to use any train you like between Cologne and Brussels.

I would think that on paper, the second route might not only be cheaper, but more convenient, as you could take a train to suit your Eurostar and perhaps have a good meal in Brussels, in the time you are waiting.

This joint ticket is available from several other cities like Bonn, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich. Munich to London in Standard Class costs £127, although I can’t seem to find a train to get to Brussels from Munich.

May 5, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Home From Heidelberg

To get back home from Heildeberg, I took the train to Brussels changing at Cologne.  And as I usually do, I took one of the last Eurostars for London that arrived just after nine in the evening.

It was a long if beautiful journey from Heidelberg to Cologne, which went right up the western bank of the Rhine. Sadly my camera had expired, so the pictures will stay in my mind.

May 2, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Rescued By Eurostar

I hadn’t got a ticket for Eurostar, as let’s face it, what good would it have done me, as I didn’t turn up in Brussels at a date and a time, remotely near anything I could have expected.

So when my number was called after a wait of a few minutes, I approached the ticket counter with more than a little apprehension. After my luck, I fully expected to be told that as it was a Friday and the start of the school holidays, that no seats were available until Tuesday at the earliest.

But the pleasant lady smiled broadly, like air hostesses do in adverts, except that she meant it, and said she could get me on a train in an hour for €190. Expensive, but then it was a last-minute walk-up and what else could I do, as I can’t swim? I then asked how much Premium Economy was and she said €204.  So I paid the extra fourteen euros and within an hour I was on my way back to Blighty. Incidentally booking now for next Friday, I’d save somewhere around £80.

On the train, I got a fulsome apology for not being served a gluten-free meal, but I knew that to get one, you have to book in advance. But at least the food was infinitely better than the rubbish you get on German trains, where gluten is compulsory in all snacks.

The train had a very unusual passenger.

A Very Unusual Passenger

A Very Unusual Passenger

The balloon was tied to a child’s buggy.  It did give one of the stewards a bit of a fright, as he came through the door.

I was of course, on time in London. But let’s face it, Eurostar have one great advantage.  With the exception of the Channel Tunnel and various junctions, it is a virtually straight line largely under their control. So could we expect that HS2 will be a more reliable railway than the West Coast Main Line? I think the answer will be yes!

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Food, Travel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exercise On The Go In Brussels

I saw this crazy device, called a Workstation, with a guy peddling away on it, in Brussels Midi station.

Exercise On The Go In Brussels

Exercise On The Go In Brussels

I suppose, I could do with a bit more exercise!

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

From Osnabruck To Brussels By Train

On the Friday, I decided that I would go home the direct route, by taking a train to Brussels and then using the Eurostar.

By eight I was on the platform waiting for the 08:37 train to Cologne, for an onward connection to Brussels.

I waited and I waited! The only entertainment was several car carrying trains going through.

Car Carrying Trains At Osnabruck

Car Carrying Trains At Osnabruck

i could have sworn that the same train went through first one way and then the other.

I did meet a German lady, who was probably a lot older than me and she was on her way to Paris, after a change at Cologne.  Like me, she had a First Class ticket on the 08:37. Even with the advantage of her native tongue, she couldn’t even ascertain what was happening. We did get messages like this.

Zugdurchfahrt

Zugdurchfahrt

Google Translate says it means train passes.  Passes what? Wind? We were also treated to the site of trains going to Cologne that seemed to be running normally.

Hamburg Köln Express

Hamburg Köln Express

But as these were the Hamburg Köln Express or HKX, our tickets weren’t valid. The HKX has Internet-only ticketing and runs what the lady said were clapped-out ex East German carriages. So it would appear that HKX is something like a German version of Grand Central, running trains in competition to the incumbent operator. But looking at the rust-buckets running on HKX and listening to the lady, they appear to be about ten classes below, those of Grand Central.

In the end we sat and waited on some of the most uncomfortable seats I’ve found in a public place.

Uncomfortable Seats

Uncomfortable Seats

Seats are generally noticeable by their absence on German stations, as I suppose the operators assume that the trains turn up on time and you don’t need to sit down. Uncomfortable seats mean that stations don’t get cluttered with passengers. I suppose though, we could always have played hopscotch.

Hopscotch

Hopscotch

But then I never have and don’t know the rules. And anyway like baseball (i.e. rounders), it’s a girly game. The words are Dutch and mean that the train leaves in 40 mins? – no problem.

They should be so lucky!

We waited for well over an hour and a half, before a train arrived. I got in and found that as the corridors were so congested with bags, it was like crawling through a tunnel to get to a First Class carriage, where I did find a seat next to an amiable German electrical engineer, who spoke excellent English. The highlight of the run to Cologne was catching a glimpse of the amazing Schwebebahn at Wuppertal.

A Glimpse Of The Schwebebahn

A Glimpse Of The Schwebebahn

I think I might have done better to go to Wuppertal the previous day and ride up and down on this amazing train. I’ve ridden it before and there’s a video I made here.

At Cologne, I had to get my tickets endorsed for another train to Brussels, as my intended one was now probably on the way back from the Belgian capital. But I didn’t get the right endorsement, and for a moment, I thought, that I’d be thrown off the Thalys to Brussels.  But I found a seat and just sat put, although I did lose my temper with a Frenchman, who said the seat was his.  So he stood to Brussels!

For the last part, I decided to stand and moved to the end of the carriage, which like all trains of the past few days was full of luggage. But sitting on top of it, were a group of Canadians, who had ten minutes to catch the Eurostar out of Brussels.

At Brussels, I stood by, as cases went everywhere and just piled up on the platform.

But I’d made it back to civilisation from the hell of German railways. And for the first time since I took the Underground to Heathrow, reasonably on time too.

I’d also made it back from Osnabruck, without one word of apology from any of the staff I met.

All I expected now, was for Eurostar to get me to St. Pancras.

I

June 21, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment