Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
It will now take just four hours and ten minutes to travel from Amsterdam to London on the Eurostar high-speed train.
The U.K. may have left the European Union, but the Netherlands just announced an agreement that will make travel between the two countries quicker and easier. High-speed Eurostar train service from Amsterdam to London will start April 30, and passengers will no longer have to disembark in Brussels to clear U.K. passport control, the Dutch government said Tuesday. The expedited process will shave 30 minutes of travel time, making the total journey to London four hours and 10 minutes. That shorter time will now match the nonstop service from London to the Dutch capital that Eurostar began two years ago. (All passengers departing from London go through EU passport control before boarding.)
The announcement removes a hurdle holding back the speed and convenience of the northern European high-speed rail network. The U.K. (which has always maintained closed, monitored borders with all other E.U. states except for Ireland) insists that all rail passengers entering the country clear passport control before they arrive in British territory. To make this possible, the U.K. has built border posts at the Eurostar stations in the cities of Paris, Brussels, Calais and Lille, to check passengers’ documents before they board. The next step was to open posts in the stations at Amsterdam and Rotterdam (from which non-stop services to London will start May 18). For the plan to work, however, the Dutch government had to grant unprecedented permission to U.K. border guards to make arrests within Amsterdam Central Station’s new passport control zone, something that the country’s laws would not have previously permitted.
With the agreement now in place, the high-speed service beneath the English Channel could be poised to win a substantial chunk of a major market. As Eurostar Director Mike Cooper told Dutch newspaper Parool: “If Amsterdammers can go directly to London, [we believe that] in the long run thirty percent of travelers to London will take the train. Now that percentage is still around eight percent.” The journey time of four hours 10 minutes, at a maximum speed of 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph), places the trip comfortably within the five-hour boundary that, as CityLab reported last year, is the cut-off point below which trains can compete with air travel. With the service expanding to five daily trains by 2021, Amsterdam to London rail travel could be especially appealing to emissions-conscious travelers trying to cut down on flying.
It’s striking – but nonetheless coincidental – that this announcement easing travel between the U.K. and continental Europe comes just four days after Brexit. With no other treaties secured at this early stage, a question mark still hangs over the future of transit between Britain and the mainland. While all negotiators will likely be keen to keep entrance and exit to the U.K. as smooth as possible, it’s still impossible to rule out longer, more rigorous checks at the borders. The most recent agreement may be a small step, but it will likely cheer up some British travelers anxious about the future.