The first time I travelled to London was in the 00’s, by airplane. At that time, taking a plane for such a short distance was still considered normal – also by me. Flying was cheap and fast, so why bother? But things have changed. In The Netherlands we now have a word called ‘Vliegschaamte’: shame of flying. More and more travellers think of the environment when they travel from Amsterdam to London. Did you know that there are 1350 flights between London and Amsterdam every week, 209 a day?
But there has been a sustainable alternative since 1994: the Eurostar. Some time after I took a plane to London, I tried the Eurostar. At that time, you had to travel to Brussels to get on the Eurostar, as there were no stops in Rotterdam and Amsterdam yet (this service wasn’t established until spring 2018). So yes, it took us some time to get to Brussels. And the Eurostar tickets were more expensive than they are now. But travelling on the Eurostar was a very positive experience for me: fast and comfortable. And green! Last year, we booked the Eurostar again, and apart from some problems with connecting trains in The Netherlands (HSL-train between Breda and Brussels), we arrived in London perfectly on time.
This month, I travelled on the Eurostar for the third time. It was the first time I did so during the summer holiday season. And probably the last. Travelling to London was perfect: trains were on time, check-in and boarding in Brussels went smoothly. A good start of my holiday. The trip back to Rotterdam – on the hottest day of the year – was a totally different story. We had heard that the day before we travelled, there were severe problems on the Eurostar: a train had a power failure and the airconditioning broke. People had to be evecuated from the train, as temperatures inside the carriages rose to 40 degrees. On top of that, there were speed restrictions as a result of the heat, causing long delays.
We arrived in the Eurostar terminal at London St. Pancras in the late afternoon. Fortunately, we were early, because there were very long lines at the check-in. It was also slightly chaotic. The waiting lounge was very full and there was nowhere to sit, people were sitting on the floor.
We were glad to get on the train. Everything went smooth until Lille. After that, we drove to Brussels very slowly. We arrived in Brussels more than an hour late. Then another problem occurred: there was no driver! He had to come from The Netherlands. Staff kept on making announcements that ‘the driver would arrive in 15 minutes’. Eventually, we ended up staying in Brussels for an hour. When finally the announcement came the driver had arrived, people cheered loudly.
We were to arrive in Rotterdam around midnight, 2.5 hours late. We heard people around us calling their family and friends to pick them up, as they wouldn’t be able to catch the last train home. We had nobody to pick us up. Other passengers offered us a place to stay near Rotterdam. But I managed to find a way to get home. Or so I thought. I mentioned the Eurostar-chaos on Twitter, and a webcare person of NS Dutch Railways assured us that they could arrange our transport home at their expenses, because we had pre-booked tickets to the station in our hometown. She gave us a phone number to call.
When we arrived in Rotterdam, we ran as fast as we could to catch the last train home. But it took off right before our eyes. So we called the NS phone number and explained our situation. The woman we spoke to, asked us to wait a few minutes, as she had to discuss the situation with her colleagues. We were baffled by her answer. She said she couldn’t help us, because we should have arranged for a cab or hotel on the Eurostar. She regretted the fact that her colleague on Twitter had wrongly informed us. And that was it.
So there we were, at Rotterdam station. With nowhere to go. We sat down in the entrance hall and decided that was the best place to stay. We spent the night watching what happened on a station at night. We saw people stocking the shelves of the supermarket. People running with luggage to get the 3.15 train to Schiphol Airport. Teenagers coming back from a night out. But it was still a very long night. We were glad when the first train to Tilburg arrived at 5.45 AM.
So, who is to blame here? NS? Eurostar? NS International, the organization where we booked our tickets months ago? My guess is that we should have asked the Eurostar staff for help. But then we got the wrong advice from NS, the Dutch railways. And there was no information/announcement on the Eurostar, that informed passengers about the possibility of free transport to get home.
Recently, the European Commission conducted a research into train journeys, and the result was that most travellers have no idea what their rights are when travelling within the EU. Information to passengers is unclear. About time these EU-rules get an update. It could have prevented us from having to spend a night on a railway station.
So will I travel on the Eurostar again? Probably, because it is still the best and greenest way to get to London. But I won’t go in peak season. And if I encounter a problem, I will turn to Eurostar staff immediately. But the most important thing is that European carriers finally start informing their passengers better!