High Speed Trains in England

Javelin St. Pancras

The Javelin at St. Pancras Station - photo by Colin Churcher

The high speed line from London to the Channel Tunnel was completed along with the opening of the magnificent St. Pancras station a couple of years ago.  It has been used until now by the international TGV Eurostar trains between London, Paris and Brussels.  Earlier this summer a new service was started by South Eastern Trains between London and the Kent Coast towns using the high speed line between London and Ashford.  These are brand new class 395 trains, known as Javelins,  that use Japanese high speed technology and are built by Hitachi.  Javelins serve a completely different market than the Eurostars.  This is a commuter service and a trial timetable is now in place with trains up from the Kent Coast (Ramsgate, Margate etc.) in the morning and back from London in the evening.  Service during the day is limited but I was able to catch the 0841 from London St. Pancras to Ashford in late October.

I arrived at the platform early and the staff allowed me to go on to take a look well before my train arrived.  They expressly allowed me to take pictures as they are obviously very proud of their new equipment.  The trains have no frills, just one class of travel and there is no food or beverage service – although a cappuccino car might make a lot of sense similar to the West Coast Express.  The reason for this is that the market is commuters who are only on the train for a very short period of time.

I watched my train come in.  The 12 cars (two sets) were quite full for a service that has only been running for a couple of months.  I saw some pin-striped suits but the commuters were of all types and a couple had helmets and wheeled off their bicycles for the last lap of their journey to the office.

Javelin St. Pancras

Interior of the Javelin - Photo by Colin Churcher

My train to Ashford was practically empty and we left on time but only four minutes behind a train to Ebbsfleet.  We passed through the station at Stratford which is being constructed for the Olympics.  South Eastern will be running shuttle Javelin trains between St. Pancras and the games venue in seven minutes.  The line to Ebbsfleet is virtually all in tunnel and we made a slow approach (i.e., below 100 mph.) but we still arrived three minutes early.  Arrival in Ashford was on time at 0917.  The journey was good, albeit very short.  The riding of the trucks was not as good as the TGVs and the reason for this is that the track on the non-high speed section (with 750V DC third rail) requires a stiffer suspension which results in a poorer ride on the High Speed Line. 

My general impression is that this is a wonderful improvement for the long-suffering commuter.  Those using Javelins pay a premium for the high speed but it is evidently a winner.  Travellers on other lines will also benefit because additional paths will be freed up and additional trains are already in service.

Just imagine, commuting to and from work at 140 mph!

For additional pictures of the Javelin click above

Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders, The Interchange December 2009.

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