Here comes the Javelin: High speed rail transit arrives in the U.K.

by Karen Fawcett on June 29, 2009

On June 29th, passengers in the UK will be able to ride their first high-speed train, which has been dubbed the Javelin. The fleet of 29 Japanese-built trains will travel at 140 miles per hour.

People are celebrating its launch since this new rail service will ferry passengers between London and southeast England at twice the speed of regular trains. This is part of a program to improve rail travel prior to 2012 Olympic Games that are going to be held in London.

The service will originate at the St. Pancras Station in London and will have three stops: Stratford (in east London), Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent. The Stratford station is near the site of the as-yet-unfinished Olympic stadium.

The International Eurostar train terminal is located in Ashford. In addition, Ashford is the area’s transit hub for tourist destinations such as Canterbury, Dover and Sandwich.

The company that has the rail contract has decided not to offer mobile refreshment carts. It fears passengers wouldn’t have enough time to purchase and eat their snacks before arriving at their destination.

The trains, plus the newly installed rail tracks, will cut the travel time between London and parts of the UK by more than half. Areas such as East Kent are experiencing a dramatic real estate booms because they’ll now be commuter accessible by people who work in central London.

Lord Adonis, the UK Transport Secretary, said that the launch of the Javelin represents a “seminal moment” for the UK, which now joins the ranks of countries that have high-speed trains, including France, Germany and Japan.

Adonis hopes the success of the new service will spur the development of a second high-speed line between London and the West Midlands and the north of England. All the high-speed trains, both current and future, are intended to facilitate transit and jump start economic development in the areas they serve.

Tourist officials hope that the faster trains will entice people to explore more parts of England than London and its outskirts.

France’s extensive TGV system has been a catalyst in the country’s development in addition to its economic growth. For example, many people have purchased primary residences in the Loire Valley, since it only take 58 minutes to commute between Tours and the Gare Montparnasse in the 14th arrondisement, a central connecting point for Paris’s metro system.

If you’re  planning to come to the UK for the Olympics, will you prolong your trip in order to visit parts of the country that were previously accessible only by slow train or by car? Not everyone likes driving “on the wrong side of the road.”

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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  • Joe

    As an American, I found the teaser from the RSS feed (which, fortunately, was not included in the article above) a bit offensive: “If you’re coming to the UK, will you take to the rails and see more of the country since if you’re an American, you won’t be forced to drive ‘on the wrong side of the road?’ ”

    But, to answer the offensive question: No way! Driving in the UK is a delight, and I can’t imagine that the train would offer anything to compensate for taking away the chance to drive through thatched-roof villages, pass by gorgeous several-hundred-year-old ruins of parish churches, and stop at hole-in-the-wall fish-and-chips shops (one of which is still my fondly remembered basis for comparison whenever I eat fried fish).

    By the way, the U.S. is not the only place where people drive on the right. And the word we use for the side they drive on in the U.K. (and about 1/3 of the rest of the world) is “left,” not “wrong.” It’s only “wrong” if you do it here. (We’re really a lot more cosmopolitan than you might think, if you will look at us as individuals, and not as a stereotype.)

    – Joe: Atlanta, Georgia, USA

  • Graham

    Joe wonders about the benefit of trains versus cars when touring the UK. Like so many things it depends. I’ve just spent two months in New Zealand and I took the train across the South Island from Christchurch to Greymouth. Why? because it allowed me to see and appreciate *all* the scenery, not just the snatched glances I get when I’m concentrating on diving. If you’re looking at scenery or a thatched roof while driving I cannot accept that you are driving safely. In the UK trains go past thatched cottages and into some of the most beautiful parts of the country (try Swansea to Shrewsbury or Weymouth to Bristol); you can sit and enjoy the world pass you by. They will also take you through industrial archaeology – it’s up to you. They won’t take you everywhere and they might require you to walk from the station to your hotel. With some planning they can be remarkably inexpensive I’ve bought tickets for a 100 mile journey for as little as £9 and if you’re over sixty you can buy a senior railcard and get another 34% off even the £9.

    But, back to New Zealand, I got to Greymouth and hired a car. Unfortunately, Kiwi Rail only runs three long distance trains so there are enormous areas of the country that you either have to drive yourself to, or get a bus (be it on a tour or as an independent traveller) if one runs. The same is less true in the UK where public transport (buses as well as trains) reach much, much more of the country. But, yes, there are places which are difficult to reach without a car so it depends where you want to go. If you can restrict (bad choice of word) yourself to places that the rail network serves then you can sit and watch the countryside, hop off in a village, hop back on later and enjoy the UK. If your feel you have to go to places not served by public transport join the mad rush on the roads and watch the brake lights in front of you!

    Mind you, even better is to bring your bicycle but that’s another story.

  • Graham

    Now, I’ll address the original article. The new trains only run at 140 mph on the line that takes Eurostar trains (which run at 186 mph) to and from the Channel Tunnel and Paris/Brussels. Once they get onto the existing railway network they run at conventional speeds (generally less that 90mph in that part of the UK).

    So what about the rest of the UK? The long distance trains tend to have a maximum speed of between 100 and 125 mph – in a small country that’s still pretty quick. But, of course they don’t run that fast all the time, and, like the 140 mph trains they are subject to the physical limitations of the rest of the network. I live 120 miles from London and have the choice of two local stations to get me there. One takes between 1hr 44 and 2 hr 10, the other 2hr 20 to 2hr 30. I don’t think of that as too slow and I don’t live where the new trains will be going.

    Yes, the new trains will help if you’re going to Canterbury but it wasn’t difficult to get to anyway. The rest of the country is still easy to get round by train.

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