Playing on trains – testing the Eurostar Terminal

I had a day off today. Well, kind of – it was one of those days where I actually got a lot of things done, largely because I’d told everyone I’d be taking it as a day off: my reason was that I had been invited to test out the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras.

I’m still not absolutely sure why I agreed to do it in the first place. Was it driven by my interest in all things new, or my curiosity to see a work in progress on the scale of a station? Was it purely the allure of a free ticket, or something more fundamental, a deep down, inexpressible yearning to spend more time with… trains? Whatever it was, I was in good company, as I found out looking at the motley collection of slightly flummoxed “passengers” that had assembled themselves at St Pancras for the day.

The drill was simple. Turn up with pre-issued tickets (sent in the post), and get on a certain train – as if going to Paris. Get off at Ebbsfleet 15 minutes away, forget quickly about Paris and pretend to be going from there. Find oneself at St Pancras again, forget Paris and check through the arrivals lounge (showing passports – I wonder what would happen if someone lost theirs, having never actually left the country). Check back in and get on a train to Paris. Five minutes later, have train stop and reverse back to St Pancras, requiring one to once again forget about Paris.

Apart from the obvious result that, by the end of it, I was quite hankering after the dirty chic of the Gallic capital, it was all a quite enjoyable affair. For myself I took the role of a “business traveller”, and true to form I also managed to simulate the characters of both “late arrival at terminal” and “apologetic queue jumper”. There was free coffee and tea, a pack lunch and – I am sure this won’t remain the case when the doors open – hordes of smiling security staff to help us through the X-ray checks.

One thing that did surprise me was just how much work there still seemed to be required. While the main concourses were largely sorted, there were swathes of cloth across many of the side-alleys, from which the usual sounds of drills and angle grinders could be heard. For the techies there was Wifi access (though the login wasn’t yet working), and a feature I particularly liked was a 50-yard-long counter with electric points at intervals, for laptops. Though of course, the sockets weren’t yet switched on.

What else? I’d love to be able to comment on signage, announcement quality and passenger facilities, like a good reviewer. Unfortunately however, it looked exactly like a train station, or more specifically, like the soon-to-be-closed Eurostar terminal at Waterloo – apart, that is, from the blank wall of red bricks that faces new arrivals (“Welcome to Britain. Here’s a blank wall, to help your first impressions.”). Most importantly, apart from a glitch at the end (when we were delayed as we tried to leave the platform on the final leg) everything functioned quite smoothly.

To conclude, while I’m still not absolutely sure why I went, I will probably look back on the experience with something approaching pleasure, and with my inner train spotter feeling appropriately nurtured. Peep peep!

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Playing on trains – testing the Eurostar Terminal

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