Thursday, July 23, 2009
Just back from a short but exhausting trip to Paris to do some portrait photography for a client. It was my first trip on the train out of the newly refurbished Saint Pancras International station, and also my first trip since the new faster rail lines were put in place, cutting a total of 45 minutes off the original 3 hour journey time. All very impressive really. I didn't realise, but the Eurostar train goes into a tunnel almost immediately after it leaves Saint Pancras, and doesn't emerge until it's pretty much out of London entirely. All very efficient, and remarkably fast, but not quite as romantic. The way it used to be, with trains rolling slowly into Waterloo station after a gentle crawl through the suburbs of South London created a group of people who will recall getting their first glimpse of Big Ben and the London Eye through the train window as it arrived in town, a long time after they have forgotten how long the journey took.
The millions that were spent on the high speed rail link were probably well spent. It's not as though we spend excess amounts of money on transport infrastructure projects here in the UK. However, every time a full Eurostar train arrives at the Gare Du Nord in Paris a large number of people go to get tickets for the metro from the hopelessly inadequate metro ticket office there. With only two operational windows, the queue can easily take a half hour or so to negotiate... Now, it's true that there are machines that dispense tickets around the place, but people coming from a foreign country often need advice and are confused by the various options presented to them and appreciate being able to speak to a real person. It seems to me that making such a huge investment to cut travel time is somewhat wasted if the rest of the system isn't working efficiently too. Anyway, my advice is to always leave Paris with at least one metro ticket that you haven't used, to be used the next time you visit, and if you forget to do that, then passes for the Paris metro are sold while you are waiting in London in that magnificent station.
PS. I forgot to mention that the front of the Gard du Nord station in Paris is being cleaned at the moment, exposing a rather grand and magnificent building (or it will be once the scaffolding comes down). It's worth popping out to the front for a quick peek before you go down to the metro station or out the side to the taxi rank...