WELL Brussels, at least. Eurostar has introduced its Class 374 ‘Velaro’ sets to its London-Brussels route, 18 months after they started on the Paris run.

These Siemens-built sets can carry 20% more passengers than the original Class 373s for roughly the same length of train, which they do by having a distributed underfloor traction system rather than using end power cars, thus freeing up two vehicles for extra seats. And this extra capacity naturally meant they were first introduced onto the busier of Eurostar’s two main routes.

Now, however, the ‘374s’ are running to Brussels as a prequel to pushing on into The Netherlands to reach Rotterdam and Amsterdam, which will be the company’s first timetabled trains outside of the UK, Belgium and France since it first started running in November 1994. Beyond that, there are plans to reach Germany too.

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Eurostar is targeting the airlines and hopes to capture a major slice of the market share, as it has done on the current routes. Research shows that business users will switch if the train journey can be done within around three hours, while leisure users much prefer to watch the countryside go by out of the window than being above the clouds in an aeroplane.

The ‘Velaros’ cater for both these groups, with top chef-inspired catering, space to work, and extra leg room. Power sockets are standard and free wi-fi is available (which the ‘373s’ do not have), plus there is an on board entertainment system showing TV programmes and movies during the journey.

Speaking to the driver on the first day’s press run, crews seem to like both the old and new sets. But there’s no denying the cab environment is much better in the ‘374s’, and where there were once switches and buttons, there are now touch screen controls.

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Passengers too feel the carriages provide a much improved environment for travel, certainly when compared with air travel. So Europe’s short-haul airlines beware – the railways are out to get your business.

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