A trip to London – planes vs. trains vs. automobiles

On 4 February the Dutch Railways (NS) made the first test trip with its new direct service from Amsterdam to London. The new direct trip from Amsterdam Central to London St Pancras will take an estimated 4 hours, shaving 45 minutes off the current travel time. The status quo required a detour through Brussels, where travelers had to switch trains before departing for the UK. Thankfully, as of 30 April the new direct trains from Amsterdam Central will make this arbitrary deviation exactly that, arbitrary. Furthermore, as of 18 May, direct trains to London will also be available from Rotterdam Central.

The question remains, what has taken NS so long in establishing this direct connection? NS CEO Roger van Boxtel explained to Radio 1 news that, until now, the staff needed to perform passport controls had been unavailable. With Brexit now a reality, the borders to England, and the rest of the UK, will become increasingly stringent, calling for more controls on both sides. Also, the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit negotiations most certainly delayed the establishment of the line, as the terms of the deal, including freedom of travel clauses, were still under negotiation. Currently, however, the Eurostar service, which facilitates travel to the UK, is claiming that Brexit has hardly impacted the travel system between the Netherlands and England due to the agreements made during direct negotiation with the English liaison. Passport checks and security protocols will be enforced at the Dutch stations before departure, implying that British and Dutch authorities will be present at the international train terminals. This does mean, however, that no more checks need to be carried out after the train has left the station. The Dutch Royal Military Police is currently prepared to supply enough staff for two trains a day to the UK, although the NS has expressed its ambition to double this number by the start of 2021.

The question of consumer convenience is, however, still up in the air. Is a four-hour trip really more convenient than a 45-minute flight? However, taking into account the two hours that the average flyer arrives at the airport before their flight, or the commute required to get to the airport, the train may be more convenient. It might also be good to take into account the smaller chance of delays and the certainty of train travel. The extended travel time might be made up for, when the comfort and reliability of train travel are compared to air travel. Either way, it is clear that the choice is a matter of consumer preference. Nevertheless, price is also an important selling point. Direct trains to London have only just entered the testing phase, so it’s difficult to make any hard claims about cost. Yet, the Eurostar trains going to London advertise that their prices can range from as low as 40 euros, to as much as 200 euros. When compared to the volatility of flight prices, however, this ticket price comes as no surprise. Currently round-trip ticket prices for direct flights between Amsterdam and London can range between 38 euros and 251 euros over a variety of airlines.

On the other hand, if travel possibilities like ferries and the tunnel crossing are available, is this direct train option even necessary? If you are able to drive to Calais and through the Channel tunnel, the price can range from 38 euros to almost 300 euros depending on the length of your stay in the UK. Ferry prices, at least for the more luxurious vessels, can be quite expensive, starting at around 200 euros for a round trip. Given the prices of these alternatives, and the need for transport to more specific locations, like Calais, IJmuiden or the port of Rotterdam, the train may be a comfortable, low-cost alternative.

Price and travel time, of course, are not the only variables that consumers may take into account. In the current social climate, pushing for sustainability, consumer responsibility is a significant issue for many travelers. Travel by train between London and Amsterdam is estimated to be 80 per cent more CO2-efficient per passenger than air travel, according to the NS. Furthermore, the comfort of a train may attract customers who are going on day or weekend trips and are less concerned with the speed of travel. Naturally, the other side of this coin does imply that this option may be less attractive to those who are traveling on business.

Edition 6 March, by Maurits Seijger