The Last Push! The Final 700 Tier Points to BA Gold!
Eurostar 9013 Paris Gare du Nord to London St Pancras International and homewards with Chiltern Railways
Eurostar 9013 Paris Gare Du Nord – London St Pancras International
Price paid: £50/$60 (Booked via Voyages SNCF)
Class 373 Trans-Mache Super Train, Coach 5, Seat 11, Standard Class.
282 miles travelled, 0 Miles Earned.
Heading down the ramp, it was a simple matter of locating the coach I was in.
The outer part of the Gare du Nord Trainshed
Eurostar trains are configured as such where they have a standard class section, a buffet/bistro car, the Premier and Plus section, then another buffet and standard class section. To help, the carriages are numbers 1 to 18, (Car 1 at the London end, Car 18 at the Paris/Brussels end), so it was a matter of finding my coach – not impossible to find as the cards have LCD displays telling you which coach you’re at.
Just in case I need to reminded where I’m escaping.
Car number 5 (Could do with a wash)
When I reached coach 5, I headed in, and found my seat… with the luggage rack behind me. Ho hum. Could be worse.
Seating taken later on in journey
In case of emergency…
I popped the bags in the luggage storage above my head, and retrieved my laptop and charger (as well as an iPhone charging cable) and settled in.
The train seemed to be filled up to a reasonable load, but it wasn’t full – which helps, as the seat next to me was free for the 2 hour and 30 run to London.
The view from the top of car 5
On time, the Trans-Marche Super Train pulled out of Gare Du Nord, beginning its trek to London. With only a stop at Ebbsfleet International booked, this was due to a quick journey.
Pulling out – another Eurostar train awaiting duties .
The train begun its journey, building speed as it passed suburban Paris – and then unleashing the 180mph when the it left the conventional lines and onto the LGV Nord – on a track for the Channel Tunnel.
At Line Speed- LGV Nord.
Part of the reason why I selected this coach is simple – only certain cars in Standard class have power installed in them, and thus this pair of seats had a UK style power socket (three pin BS1353 style). Other seats had the French style socket too, alternating between rows.
Power socket – BS1353 style (or as most of us know it as, the British Plug).
Power was not what I’d calls stable – with at one point me pushing the plug in so it made contact with my leg, and during points where power dropped or a changeover of power was done, the lack of mains power was noticeable. Still, it gave me enough time to write, sort and upload photos onto the laptop and relax.
Car 5 is also next to the Cafe/Buffet car – so in the name of research – I had a look (primarily as I needed a coffee to keep going after the days fun and games so far).
The Eurostar Cafe/Buffet is atypical of the TGV style – ie a counter and lots of standing space. I partook of a large Americano coffee to keep me sane (for €3. Not overpriced, but definitely taking advantage of the market).
For those who wanted hot meals, Eurostar also offers meals… from of all people – Waitrose (a high-end British Supermarket). Prices were about £2 over the store price (which considering the captive market – not surprising), but the food smelled fresh and edible. Or to put it another way, that Chicken Tikka Masalla did smell VERY tempting!!!
Our speed only let up for Lille (which went past in a blur), as we accelerated back to line speed on the LGV Nord – and also the grey skies that had been tracking me since Paris started to lift into blue skies at last.
Closing in on Lille Europe – Many Train à Grande Vitesse awaiting next services in the yard
Blue sky at last – lifting the clouds of the day.
Our speed then began to fall again as we prepared to dip under the channel as we passed Calais, and finally into the Channel Tunnel.
Passing Calais-Fréthun at line speed
Preparing to dive…
Last view of France.
25 minutes of darkness followed, as the train pushed through the artificial night. In the past there used to be a warning that the train was entering the channel tunnel. Now, nothing. It’s just part of the journey – maybe how it should be.
At speed in the tunnel
The train accelerated out of the tunnel at Cheriton, passing the Dollands Moor Freight yard – now firmly back in the United Kingdom… and straight into Vodafone’s awful mobile phone signal area. Wonderful.
For me, there was brand new experience to be had – and that was to travel on the United Kingdom’s sole High Speed Rail Line. The line which is built to TGV standards allowed the train to accelerate back up to the 180 mph, and the Kent countryside whizzed past cutting through Ashford and continuing a high speed run until we slowed finally for Ebsfleet International.
Passing Ashford at speed – Note the suburban commuter train in white, and the express services in dark blue.
Crossing the Medway River
There was a minor exodus of passengers here, before the train began to accelerate again.
A Javelin High speed train heading into London (interesting side-note, The Class 395 Hitachi A-Train is a derivative of the 400 series Shinkansen… so we have Bullet Trains in the UK… of sorts).
This time, acceleration was at a slower pace as it had to negotiate the River Thames, and then a complex mix of high and low rails as it dived under the East of London, around Stratford International, and finally our destination – London St Pancras.
On final approach – The Kings Cross Great Northern complex coming into view
The train pulled in on time, and the doors were released, with a mass exodus from the train.
The Grand and Restored St Pancras station
Overall: Eurostar delivered a high quality service, end to end through every interaction, along with a well-timed service. It’s no wonder that they dominate the London-Paris/Brussels route – whilst the plane beats Eurostar on the actual travel part, it fails on the getting to the airport, security and getting into town bit. 2 hours 20, centre to centre cannot be beaten. End of matter. Combine that with the high quality service, there’s only one winner.
Diving down the ramp, UK Customs were awaiting passengers. Thankfully, they took little interest in me as I headed for the exit. Within minutes, I was through to the public area of St Pancras International, and on my way to the King Cross St Pancras Tube station complex.
Now, when I got here, I was crossing everything – hoping the bank didn’t cancel the wrong credit card as I would need to it buy a new Oyster card
Thankfully, £5 for an Oyster card and £5 of credit was processed successfully, allowing me to use the tube to get to my next stop: Marylebone station. To make matter a lot simpler, a Metropolitan line train arrived (which makes the transfer at Baker Street a doddle as opposed to the circle line which invokes lots of stairs)
Inbound Metropolitan line
Quiet on the ‘Met
Winding my way down Baker Street…
A quick transfer and £2.80 of Oyster credit gone, I was at the old Great Central terminus of London Marylebone.
Another trip to a ticket machine, and I had a ticket for Birmingham (and at the super off-peak price of £28.90 return). With a train going in 10 minutes, I wasted no time heading up to platform 5 – where a waiting (and refurbished) train was waiting to go.
The Grand Central Railway shed – Or Marylebone Station
A Refurbished Chiltern Clubman waiting for the 1 hour 40 trip.
Chiltern Railways London Marylebone to Birmingham Snow Hill
Class 168/2 Chiltern Clubman (4 car unit)
Boarding the train, I realised I had got in at the quiet coach. To be honest – at this point, I hardly cared as I was going home.
After nearly totalling a businessman’s laptop, and myself, I settled down for the final leg home.
The route was a “fast mainline” route, only stopping at Banbury, Leamington spa, Warwick parkway, Solihull, Birmingham Moor Street and Birmingham Snow hill. I was happy for a terminus at snow hill as taxis are bit easier to use from there.
Let’s look at the train as it’s been to be refurbished. The first thing to note is the outside which has some gray go faster stripes
Inside, the dark blue these trains had before have turned… You guessed it – grey.
Still have power at seat.
Notice a theme?
Still, the seats whilst re-upholstered were quite comfortable for a train seat.
The train pulled out Marylebone on time, and accelerated out of London, crisis crossing lines and onto the Chiltern Main line.
There was a trolley service of drinks and snacks that passed through the train (and had a very low uptake) as the train sped through High Wycombe.
However, a call if nature needed to be answered… and Chiltern railways seemed to have gone mad with the refurbishment here too.
Well judge for yourself.
Congratulations Chiltern railways. You win.
There was a swap around of passengers at Leamington Spa, with a lot of people getting off, and a fair amount of people getting on the train. I was still in my post holiday bubble, watching the world go by.
Soon enough Warwickshire melted away and the train entered into the urban area of Birmingham… Where I decided to play “hunt the keys to the flag”… And promptly lost in the time allowed.
I exited Snow hill station, I decided the best thing was to look for my keys in comfort – and do it in a Starbucks as the rain had begun falling again in Birmingham.
Snow Hill station
Thankfully, there’s a small branch on Colmore Row, and for the cost of a tall Americano, I had a warm place to find my keys (which were not in any of the usual places – it was in the laptop storage area. I’m still working out how.)
Coffee.. with keys
And me taking over Starbucks.
With the keys back in their usual pocket and the bags replaced, there was only one place I wanted to go… And that was in a taxi back to my flat.
Thankfully there were some parked up, that took me the mile or so to the gateway of my block of flats. With the keys working, I was in the complex of flats…
… And finally at my front door.
There’s no place like home.
NEXT (and finally): 700 Tier Points: Job Done.
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