PARIS (Reuters) - The first Eurostar train sped out of the refurbished St. Pancras station in London on Wednesday, whisking passengers to Paris on a high-speed link built at a cost of 5.9 billion pounds.
Accompanied by the sound of bagpipes, a Eurostar official cut the yellow ribbon to open the international departures area of the station, hailed as a “Cathedral of the Railways” when it was built in the steam train era of 1868.
The move marks the end -- to the exact day -- of 13 years of trains to the continent from Waterloo station.
Trains will now run from St Pancras on the new 186-mile per hour (299 kph) line, taking just 30 minutes to travel more than 60 miles to the Channel Tunnel.
The upgraded link shaves around 20 minutes off average journey times to Paris and Brussels. It now takes two hours 15 minutes to reach the French capital and one hour 53 minutes to get to the Belgian capital.
Trains previously could not run at top speed on parts of the line on the English side of the Tunnel. The new link is a shining star in Britain’s otherwise creaking transport network.
Each train will have the climate warming carbon emissions from its fuel offset through investments in clean power projects to make the journey carbon neutral.
“The trip was absolutely wonderful. Very smooth and comfortable and all the better for being green,” said passenger Joy Greasley, 55, leading a group from the Women’s Institute on a day trip to Paris.
Eurostar, competing with airlines for traffic, has been stressing its green credentials.
“Our passengers tell us they expect businesses as well as individuals to reduce their environmental impact, and that is what we are doing,” Eurostar chief Richard Brown told reporters.
“The first offset project we are investing in is a wind farm in Tamil Nadu in India. The next will be a micro-hydro project in China,” he added.
Eurostar already claims to dominate the passenger market to Paris and Brussels, with around two-thirds of the London-Paris and the London-Brussels rail/air market.
It has reported a surge in bookings for travel from the new St. Pancras terminus with one million seats already reserved.
Travellers are sent off and arrive in elegant style from the cavernous station, rebuilt at a cost of 800 million pounds.
With a vast 75 metre (240 feet) glass and steel arched roof bathing travellers with sunlight, the station boasts a large sub-level shopping centre and what it says is the longest champagne bar in the world at 93 metres.
On Wednesday passengers arriving in Paris faced a struggle if they wanted to travel any further due to strikes over pension reforms that badly disrupted the Paris underground system.
Reporting by Jeremy Lovell; editing by Keith Weir
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