Monday, 19 November 2007

Why not Eurostar?

Recently, I was perusing options for getting bikes onto the continent. I'd heard that it was becoming more difficult to get bikes on a plane. British Airways was reported as tightening regulations for carrying sports equipment and I know other low cost airlines are making it less cost effective to get gear abroad, charging around £30-£40 extra for a return trip. Whilst I was thinking about the options, I started looking at trains, thinking that was a great solution. The problem is the more I looked at it, I became less reassured of commitment to supporting cyclists among the companies that make up the transport industry.

Looking at some of the options over on the continent, it seems the world is your oyster, so to speak. There are ample facilities for cyclists in some countries to go by train. In the UK though, the situation can be less than optimal. Some stations have facilities for bicycles for parking but many are not secure. Train companies may advertise they allow cycles on the train, but sometimes only have room for two cycles. If there's three people wanting to take their bikes on the same route at the same time you're stuck. There is incentive to improve and the good guys get some recognition at the annual cycle rail awards.

I thought I'd come up with a cunning plan going completely by rail until I discovered some of the difficulties. I thought 'All I need to do is get over to the right place on the continent and then use local trains to get about in country. Eurostar!' 'Ideal', I thought - blast all the way to the south of France or over to Brussels or Berlin. And then I found, you can't easily take bikes on Eurostar. You can book them on board, but as a checked baggage service costing £20 and not on the same train as the passenger.

It seems I'm not alone in thinking this is not a very modern approach to a sustainable and integrated transport solution. About a hundred cyclists mounted a protest recently at the newly refurbished St. Pancras station, the day of the first non-stop high speed Eurostar trains to the continent. They were campaigning for better facilities at the station and better access routes in the vacinity of the station as well as pressing Eurostar to allow bikes on the same train as their passenger owners.

It seems to have had an effect. Around 100 bike stands were rushed in by Network Rail to improve on the inadequate stands that existed at the remote end of the car park. This seemed quite a decent number until I read Rotterdam's new station has 8000! The biggest breakthough has to be that Eurostar have promised to enable passengers to reserve space on the same trains they are travelling on.

Well done London Cycling Campaign, keep the pressure on! I'll get back to my planning now...

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