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Monday, December 6, 2021

I rode the famed Eurostar high-speed train between London and Paris and saw how it’s undeniably better than Amtrak’s Acela

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Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

  • Eurostar connects London with cities through mainland Europe in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.

  • A train journey between London and Paris only takes a little more than two hours.

  • America has fallen behind in high-speed rail with Amtrak’s Acela pailing in comparison to services like Eurostar.

Europe’s expansive rail network has long surpassed America’s in nearly every aspect, connecting cities across the continent with efficient downtown to downtown service unavailable to most Americans.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Multiple European countries have been working towards greater rail connectivity on the continent while Amtrak has dominated national rail travel in the US. American high-speed rail, as a result, has been limited to a handful of cities with no plans to expand it on a national level.

high speed train

Two European high-speed trains. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Here’s why Amtrak isn’t prioritizng high-speed rail beyond the Northeastern US.

America’s first true foray into European-style high-speed rail came in 2000 with Amtrak’s Acela Express, now known simply as Acela.

Amtrak Acela

Amtrak’s Acela train. Kyodo News Stills via Getty Images

But there’s been little progress since then. Acela is the only high-speed line operated by Amtrak and takes passengers solely between New York, Boston, and Washington, DC, with stops in major cities in between.

Amtrak Acela

Amtrak’s Acela train. AP

Here’s what riding Acela during the pandemic was like.

New trainsets are scheduled to debut in 2022 but even still, journey times will only slightly improve as the winding train tracks that prohibit consistent high speeds will remain the same.

Amtrak Acela

Amtrak’s new Acela trainset. Amtrak

Here’s how Amtrak is modernizing its Acela fleet.

Eurostar, alternatively, connects London with mainland European cities as far south as Nice, France and as far east as Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its trains reach speeds of nearly 186 miles per hour,

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I took Eurostar between London and Paris after taking three trips on Acela during the pandemic. Here’s which one was better.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Eurostar’s London-Paris route is arguably its most popular and well-known. The two capital cities are connected in just over two hours through the Channel Tunnel, also known as the Chunnel.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

A round-trip ticket for a Parisian day trip just a few days after the UK opened to French visitors cost $239.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Here’s what it was like entering the UK after it opened to vaccinated tourists.

Three classes of service are available including “standard,” “standard premier,” or “business premier,” basically the equivalents of economy class, premium economy class, and business class, respectively, on an airplane.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I booked standard premier class for the London to Paris leg as the upgrade fee was only $13, and standard for the return journey. The upgrade came with more spacious seats as well as a light meal and drinks served at the seat.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Acela, by comparison, only has two classes of service including business class and first class.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic

Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

But Acela’s business class is more akin to a standard coach class as there are no added perks beyond a large recliner and having a ticket onboard the high-speed trail.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic

Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

I arrived at London’s St. Pancras International Station around an hour before my Eurostar train’s departure to Paris. This is where the process got complicated.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I collected my ticket from a self-serve kiosk and headed to the departure area. The first step was completing a COVID-19 questionnaire required for travel to France.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Next came the security screening checkpoint which was similar to those found in airports. Amtrak trains, even those bound for foreign countries, do not require these types of screenings.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The security check was followed by a quick stop at the UK Border Force to scan my passport out of the country.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The final stage of the check-in process was clearing French passport control. A major benefit to taking Eurostar is clearing passport control in the departure country.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Once clear of the security formalities, passengers are directed to a seating lounge to wait before the platform is called. On Acela, it isn’t uncommon to wait in the main hall of a station until the train is nearing the station.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

There was no shortage of seats in the departure lounge, as well as passengers that prefer to wait by the door to the platform. A small duty-free shop and cafe were also open for passengers.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Both Eurostar and Amtrak offer their top paying customers access to private lounges within stations, similar to premium airline lounges in airports. Eurostar “business premier class” ticket holders can access Eurostar lounges in Paris, Brussels, London, as well as partner lounges at stations in the Netherlands.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Holding a first class ticket also affords Acela riders into Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounges.

Moynihan Train Hall

New York City’s new Moynihan Train Hall. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The platform was opened to passengers 20 minutes before departure and up we went.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Eurostar’s trains are massive with 16 cars in total on this trainset. Walking down to my car took quite a bit but I wanted to be closer to the front so I would have a shorter walk upon arrival in Paris.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Red carpeting quite literally guided the way into the standard premier car. There were fewer seats in this car that gave it a more exclusive feel with more space to stretch out.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

All Eurostar seats are reserved so there was no need to rush to find an open spot.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Amtrak, alternatively, just recently introduced reserved seating on all Acela trains.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic

Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The seat map even shows which seats are obstructed by a window, and which offer a view.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The stylish chairs in standard premier are arranged in a 1-2 configuration, with the exception of the tables that offer two pairs of seats that face each other.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Each seat also has amenities including a personal reading lamp…

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

European and UK power outlets and USB charging ports…

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And storage compartments under the armrests.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

It was exactly what I was expecting from European rail. The seat products looked so modern and clean on my journey that they seemed brand new.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Even standard class has stylish seats arranged in a 2-2 configuration, with table seats spread throughout the car.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Those seats similarly have European and UK power outlets and tray tables.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Acela, by comparison, has a tired interior of blue leather recliners in business class.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic

Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Amtrak has not given Acela the same upgrades that its long-distance trains are currently receiving.

Riding Amtrak Acela During the Pandemic

Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Here’s how Amtrak is upgrading the seating on its long-distance trains.

Our 8:01 a.m. train departed from London on-time and quickly advanced through the city’s tunnels bound for the Chunnel.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Eurostar’s Siemens British Rail Class 374 trains, also known as the E320, have a top speed of 186 miles per hour. And I could feel that speed as we soared through the countryside.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Acela’s Bombardier/Alstom trainsets are limited to 150 miles per hour, which it can only achieve on straight stretches of track north of New York City.

Amtrak train Acela Express commute

Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Complimentary WiFi was available throughout the entire journey, even in the Chunnel.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

A light meal was included in the price of my standard premier ticket and it consisted of a croissant, bread roll, yogurt, water, and a selection of coffee and tea for breakfast. It was tasty and I couldn’t argue with the value since I only paid $13 for the upgrade.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The one downside was that the silverware still had crumbs on it after it had been cleaned. It was the first thing I noticed after taking the fork, knife, and spoon out of its packaging.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Those in standard class have the option of visiting the cafe car, called “Cafe Metropole,” or bringing snacks onboard the train.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The menu is reasonably priced but I could see just as well not having to eat anything since the journey is so short.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Meals on Acela are only served in first class, which is often a substantial buy-up from standard business class. But snacks and drinks can be purchased in Acela’s cafe car

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic

Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

There isn’t much by way of entertainment on Eurostar beyond the WiFi and overhead screens that gave fun facts about things like how deep the Chunnel is.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Acela similarly offers free WiFi but entertainment is limited beyond that.

Riding Amtrak During the Pandemic

Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Signage onboard the Acela is also more reminiscent of a New York City subway car than it is a premium travel product.

Riding Amtrak Acela During the Pandemic

Riding Amtrak during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The experience on Eurostar did feel quite premium, more so than I’ve ever felt on Acela. This was a train ride worth dressing up for.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Arriving in Paris, we had made the roughly 200-mile journey in two hours and 16 minutes flat.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Not even Acela’s non-stop service between New York City and Washington could beat that time, even though the cities are roughly the same distance apart.

Amtrak Acela Boston platform train

Passengers exit an Amtrak Acela train from New York Penn Station as it arrives on a platform at South Station train and bus station, on August 7, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts.() Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

If I had to choose between taking Acela or Eurostar with all other things being equal, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Eurostar.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The major downside to Eurostar is that extra security checks are required for those traveling between the UK and mainland Europe. I made sure to arrive extra early for each Eurostar journey whereas, on Acela, I can get to the station just a few minutes before departure and have time to spare.

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France - Eurostar Trip 2021

Taking Eurostar between London, UK and Paris, France. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Intra-European Union train lines don’t have the same hassle and are arguably as easy to take as Acela.

high speed train

A European high-speed train. Pool/Getty Images

But I can’t fault Eurostar for international travel requirements. And what its train services lacks in convenience in that aspect, they make up for in incredibly fast and stylish journeys.

Eurostar

A Eurostar E320 trainset. Digital News Agency

Acela will see improvements when its new Aveila Liberty trainsets arrive. New seating will replace the tired blue leather…

FC1
Amtrak’s new Acela trainset. Amtrak

And the cafe car will be modernized with digital menus.

Amtrak new Acela trains interior

Amtrak’s new Acela trainset. Amtrak

Every seat will also have power outlets, USB charging ports, and adjustable reading lights.

Amtrak new Acela trains interior

Amtrak’s new Acela trainset. Amtrak

So while Amtrak may never fully catch up to Eurostar in all aspects, Americans will soon get a high-speed upgrade to help bridge the gap.

Acela Avelia Liberty

Amtrak’s new Acela trainset. Amtrak

Read the original article on Business Insider



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