Cast back fifty years and St Pancras station in London had plenty of trains to stir the imagination. The Palatine still ran from St Pancras to Miller’s Dale and The Waverley to Hawick. But during the 1980s and 1990s, St Pancras was a dull place for devotees of interesting trains. It’s hard to get excited about the slow train to Luton or the semi-fast to Leicester. This most august of London termini fell into deep decline.
The story of the renaissance of the station (and its fine hotel) is an inspiring one. Since 2007, St Pancras has becomes London’s gateway to Europe, with Eurostar trains purring out of the magnificently restored train shed as they make tracks for Brussels or Paris.
But Eurostar is good for more than merely two continental capitals. All the Brussels-bound Eurostar trains make an en route stop at Lille Europe and some also stop at Calais Fréthun. Both stations afford easy connections onto the French TGV network and with local and regional SNCF trains.
It is worth remembering that Eurostar also has occasional services that go to destinations other than Paris or Brussels. There is a useful year-round link to Marne la Vallée-Chessy, useful not just for Disneyland but also for connections onto RER Ligne A. The station is also served by some TGV services. This spring, SNCF plans to launch a new style of low-cost TGV service and the northern hub for that new network will be at Marne la Vallée-Chessy.
Eurostar ski services are in full swing, with the season continuing through to April. As in previous years, Eurostar is offering direct trains from London to three stations in the French Alps: Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Aime la Plagne and Moûtiers-Salins.
In May, Eurostar launches an experimental service to Aix-en-Provence. Eurostar will speed from St. Pancras to Aix, a journey of 1,215 km (about 755 miles), in just over six hours. The train will stop along the way at Lyon Part Dieu and Avignon TGV, both stations which (like Aix) have never before had direct Eurostar services from London. First departure from St Pancras is on Saturday 4 May. This new link is in addition to the long-standing Eurostar seasonal service from London to Avignon Centre.
All the services mentioned here can be booked on the Eurostar website. For journeys to Brussels, Paris, Lille and Calais, tickets can be booked four months in advance of travel. For other destinations, the forward booking horizon is generally very much longer. So summer services to Avignon can already be booked right through to the end of August. And services to Marne la Vallée-Chessy are open for booking to mid-October. If you are interested in trying the new link to Aix-en-Provence, return tickets are still available for £109.
Eurostar schedules for 2013 feature in Tables 9, 10 and 17a in the latest Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable. That volume can also be used to plan onward itineraries across Europe by rail.