Many passengers from West Kent find taking Eurostar services from Ashford International quicker and more convenient than travelling to either St Pancras or Ebbsfleet, so we were alarmed to discover that Eurostar plans to reduce the number of trains between Ashford and Paris from 11 December. Currently, on weekdays services run from Ashford to Paris at 06:24, 09:55 and 14:55. From December the convenient middle departure at 09:55 will be lost. Similarly, the 08:43 departure from Paris to Ashford will disappear, though the later services at 11:13 and 19:13 will continue to run.
We were anxious to know what lay behind these changes, and so contacted colleagues at Kent County Council (KCC) to see if they had any insights. It transpires that these changes are the result of Eurostar adopting a new fleet of trains which currently cannot run into Ashford International because to the signalling of tracks is incompatible. Eurostar has decided to jettison the vast majority of its older fleet, and had proposed leaving Ashford without any services to Paris whatever! To its credit, KCC has succeeding in persuading Eurostar to keep one additional unit of older rolling stock in service, which will run the remaining services mentioned above. KCC is also working with Eurostar to drive forward a project to update the signalling of the lines through Ashford, in order to allow the new trains to operate.
Eurostar have told us, via a letter to Tom Tugendhat MP, that the reduction in services from Ashford should be seen as “short term challenge to protect the town’s long-term connectivity”. However, we are not sure whether the cuts in services are genuinely required to allow the signalling upgrade to proceed, or whether Eurostar simply wanted to take one of its older units off lease. Moreover, we have not been told how “short term” this reduction in services will be, or given any definite assurance about how many services will run in future. Leisure travellers will wish to note that a there is a similar reduction in services on Saturdays, with trains running from Ashford to Paris at 06:55 and 14:55 and returning from Paris at 11:13 and 19:13. On Sundays there will only be one outbound train, at 14:55, but three services will continue to run Paris to Ashford, at the existing times of 11:13, 16:43 and 19:13. There is no change to the number of trains between Brussels and Ashford, with a single pair of services running each day. On Mondays to Saturdays the outboard train from Ashford to Brussels will leave at 07:28 every day (it currently leaves earlier on Mondays), returning 16:56 as now. The Sunday trains are unchanged, departing Ashford at 18:28 and Brussels at 17:56.