AMSTERDAM — Despite objections from international high speed rail operator Eurostar and passenger groups, the Dutch government has agreed to a plan by state-owned infrastructure operator ProRail to suspend all Eurostar services in the Netherlands for up to a year beginning next summer.
Separately, Eurostar has also dropped its service between London and Disneyland Paris.
The Amsterdam service will not be able to operate as that city’s main station is undergoing major renovation work and the Eurostar check-in and security/immigration area will not be available. The planned suspension will run from June 2024 until May 31, 2025; because Eurostar has no alternative terminal it can use in Amsterdam, through trains on the Amsterdam-Brussels-London route will be limited to the Brussels-London portion.
The Eurostar terminal at Amsterdam Centraal station, where security and immigration controls are undertaken, was built on the edge of the station in advance of the through services to London beginning in 2018, although ProRail plans to build new, expanded facilities. Even longer term, Prorail plans to build a dedicated Eurostar terminal alongside the existing Amsterdam Zuid (South) station, but this will not be ready until 2036.
Security screening required
Eurostar services are subject to airport-style security screening of passengers and also have immigration controls conducted before departure, similar to the way U.S. Immigration screens passengers at Vancouver, British Columbia, before boarding Amtrak Cascade trains. Other international services, such as those operated to Germany from Amsterdam, do not have such controls as the journey is entirely within the European Union’s Schengen free-travel area.
Eurostar has lobbied Dutch ministers and ProRail to avoid the suspension, but apparently without success. Dutch national rail passenger organization Rover has described the situation as “incredible.” The organization, along with the City of Amsterdam, has called on ProRail and the Dutch government to make sure the Eurostar service can continue to operate, according to local media. While it currently appears unlikely, it remains possible a solution allowing continued Eurostar service will be found.
Other Dutch passenger train operators using Amsterdam Centraal station have also objected to the impact of the planned renovations, but do not face a total suspension of operations, as no other operator needs permanent check in and security/immigration facilities.
London-Amsterdam was one of Europe’s busiest short-haul aviation routes before the Eurostar service began, and the high speed train operator made it clear when launching the service that it expected most of its passengers to switch from flying. This had clearly been the case, as service frequencies had increased to four trains each way daily, with plans for a fifth pair announced before the service suspension was disclosed. Eurostar currently carries about 2,000 passengers daily each way between Amsterdam and London, while some airlines have reduced service on the route. A Eurostar suspension will be a significant setback for progress of the high speed service, as well as for European efforts to encourage travel by rail instead of air for environmental reasons.
Disney service halted
Eurostar’s daily direct service from London to Disneyland Paris ended June 7. Eurostar blamed the move, which was announced last summer, on the need to rebuild its finances. The operator received no government support during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead mortgaging its train fleet and taking out large extra bank loans. Eurostar had already stopped running overnight winter-weekend trains from London to the French Alps aimed at winter sports vacationers, although it has run a chartered service on behalf of a travel company this year.
Eurostar has also previously said it believes its services will be impacted by the European Union’s plan to introduce a new electronic and biometric immigration system, similar to the ESTA Visa waiver offered to some visitors to the U.S. This will require time-consuming identity checks and gathering of biometric data for all non-EU travelers; since the UK left the EU, this includes all British travelers, who make up a majority of passengers on most Eurostar trains. This process, in turn, will limit the number of passengers who can be processed at any of the stations Eurostar serves.
This system is running several years late although introduction is likely in 2024. By removing the Disneyland Paris service, capacity for more trains to Paris itself can be created. Those trains likely carry business passengers paying higher fares than those going on vacation. Eurostar has also suspended stops at regional stations in the UK (Ebbsfleet and Ashford International) and France (Calais-Fréthun) since the pandemic and, according to the company, has no immediate plan to reintroduce them.
Eurostar points out that passengers can still travel to Disneyland Paris from London by taking a Eurostar train to Lille, then getting on a connecting TGV high speed service to Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy, the station opposite the Disneyland Paris park gate. Alternately, they can switch to a suburban service from Paris to the park, although for families with kids and luggage that will hardly be an attractive option.
Eurostar may re-introduce the Disney service in the future; the company says it will review its plans for 2024 later this year.