Adam Bird

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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Flying Home

High Speed 1

Yesterday, High Speed 1, the new commuter service running from London to Ashford took it's first passengers as part of it's preview service before rolling out full time in December. Due to a series of circumstances I found myself using the train far sooner than I anticipated.

For most of my life there has always been discussions, talks, plans and ideas for a high speed service that would link London to the continent, allowing you, if you wished to be in Paris, or Brussels in ludicrously short amounts of time.

Slowly but surely as the infrastructure has been built up around us and details about international rail travel and local commuter routes we have found suddenly, that it is actually reality.

Living in Gravesend, we have been very fortunate that the Ebbsfleet International Station has been built upon our doorsteps (even if there are a million negative issues here), as this has allowed us easy access to the service.

Having commuted to London for the past three years via Gravesend to Charing Cross the new High Speed link was obviously going to be of interest to me, more specifically how much it was going to cost! The prices when revealed are unsurprisingly expensive, something like £6.50 extra a day return, so it isn't likely to be something that I will be using often!

However, on arriving at Charing Cross last night and seeing every single train cancelled or delayed I faced a predicament. First thought was to walk to London Bridge, which I have done on a couple of occasions, but it sounded to me as if London Bridge was also out of action. Second choice was to fight a million others on the tube over to Victoria and get the Meopham line instead, which is what I decided to do... until I remembered that yesterday the new High Speed started it's preview service.

A quick call to National Rail Enquiries, which was a nice surprise, confirmed that the last train would be leaving at 7.26, giving 40 minutes in which to head over to St Pancras and board the train - plenty of time. Which leads me to my first and only negative aspect of the whole journey.

Alighting from the Piccadilly line into St Pancras, you find yourself in the Eurostar area with ticket offices, duty frees and what not, so I had to follow sign for National Rail. It doesn't matter too much now, as I know exactly where I need to go but for the uninitiated and for someone worried about the time it was actually quite daunting as a) the signs were not that clear and b) the Southeastern bit is stuck right at the farthest point away and up an escalator which is hidden by some construction work. Also, whereas the other train companies have huge ticketing offices, which I know only too well, I spent 15 minutes queued up in Eastern Mainline only to realise my mistake when reading the small print on a sign that said "Tickets". Southeastern doesn't actually have one, except one small standalone machine just outside the platform.

As I embarked upon the train, after receiving a very gratuitous "how are you sir", "how can I help you sir", "enjoy your maiden journey on High Speed One sir" it was a pleasure to note that most of the seats were empty, those that were sitting down had laptops out which were plugged into the sockets beneath their seats, or were reading from books upon fold out trays upon the seat in front.

I didn't want to read as I was quite looking forward to looking upon a different view from the window, and that there wasn't much point in getting a book from my bag as by the time I did it would be time to put it back! However as we left the station we quickly took a dog leg right and into a tunnel, which we didn't leave until Dagenham, which is a shame, but across from Dagenham to Lakeside you are out in the open, watching the world whizz by at 180mph, which is even better as there isn't much to look at. You don't realise how fast you are going until you pass another "normal" train which is using the conventional Essex line travelling at around 60/70 mph!

After the Dartford Crossing you enter another very short tunnel, it really is quicker than you think, before you know it the train is turning town the gears and pulling into Ebbsfleet International.

So from London to Ebbsfleet... 13 minutes. I called Steph at 7.15 to say I would be home at 8pm. I arrived at 7.40 and rang saying that I arrived. She picked me up from Ebbsfleet at 8.05! From London to Ebbsfleet 13 minutes, from home to Ebbsfleet 25 minutes! It may be slightly more expensive, but one day I will be using the service on daily basis. For now, it will only be used in worst case scenarios, or when I need to be home sharpish, but anyone reading this, I recommend just having a single trip - it is well worth it!
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