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The Last Snow Train of the Season – must do better
With the Eurostar / Thalys tie up we once again have a “Snow Train” where you can book without being part of an accommodation package. Unbelievably today 4 Feb 2024 is the last one of the season with the service ending before the half term holidays.
Eurostar direct services replaced the old disco carriage trains where people used to fall out of the train on to the platform at Moûtiers after abusing the all night bar – we kid you not. Even the Eurostar overnight services eventually placed a complete ban on all alcohol consumption on board.
When things finally restarted after Covid only a travel package deal including accommodation was offered by Travelski – essentially they chartered the Eurostar service.
This (half) season’s service runs from Moûtiers (plus Aime and BSM) to Lille where a change of train, chance of platform, passport control x2, security and customs takes place followed by a standard Eurostar service to London St Pancras.
For £94 (via TrainPal booked in Sep 2023 but with no railcard concessions or Senior rates) one-way including bags & skis with a short transfer, it’s not a bad price for a weekend in February but a lot of issues remain especially the fact it arrives on a Saturday and leaves on a Sunday ignoring the 90% of week to week bookings in the Alps and people having to fork out for a hotel for an extra night.
There are many massive fans of travelling to The Alps by train (some almost evangelical) and of course the environmental consideration will always win – although 5 people in an efficient petrol car never mind an electric car is another argument. Surprisingly Eurostar only uses 40% green energy in the UK (it’s 100% in Holland).
Comparisons between Train v Plane never seem to compare like for like and me, like many others will balance cost, time, comfort and convenience when it comes to travel.
A lift at 07:30 from La Tania from Ski Hame (thanks Annie) started the journey as the bus service to Moûtiers doesn’t start until 08:20 on a Sunday, arriving at 09:00 – the train departs at 08:52.
At 07:50 there’s coffee but no croissants yet from the little shack in the station, the main cafe not open – maybe it doesn’t on a Sunday, we are in France after all.
The Eurostar rebranded Thalys train is on time and despite the decor of a cheap Indian restaurant the seats in a 2-1 configuration are wide and comfortable, WiFi is pretty decent and eventually I discover where the power socket is.
The journey is very smooth, I see us get close to 300km/h on the online info page, but not quite…
A visit to the Eurostar cafe is very disappointing – the only (luke) warm food is a goats cheese curried tart and they don’t even have any red wine… Items on the menu are covered up because they’re not available. Maybe they could cater with a little nod to their 95% UK market with an M&S sandwich perhaps? We hear the food is much better if you upgrade however.
Around 5½ hours after leaving Moûtiers we arrive in Lille, everyone (and all their luggage) gets off the train and heads upstairs to the Eurostar area (Hall D) – here we queue for 30 minutes to get through ticket checks, passport control times 2 plus security (similar to airlines) and customs procedures.
The train configuration is different to what was booked so all the chosen seat reservations are cancelled and new ones re-issued as you check-in (with no choice).
The Eurostar holding area is as poor as the ones at St Pancras and Gare du Nord – maybe worse, there’s no bar at all here, just a glorified newsagent and as usual not enough seats.
When it comes to boarding the escalators are out so everyone has to carry baggage, skis, boots, hand bags etc down a flight of stairs (or queue for the one small lift) – a pretty chaotic scene.
At 15:30 one hour after arrival at Lille we board (with all our baggage) on to the London Eurostar service and in 90 minutes we arrive in St Pancras. Wifi not as good, seats not as comfortable – all seems a bit dated compared to the time I used it every week for 3 months travelling to Lille from Waterloo in 2007, just before it moved to St Pancras. It still seemed modern, new and exciting back then.
More escalator trouble on arrival with only one working so it takes a full 20 minutes to get everyone (and all their luggage) off the platform.
I have a 90 minute wait for my train to Newcastle as previous Eurostar experiences have always taught me to allow at least an hour for connections – unlike linked up plane journeys you can’t book onward travel cheap tickets (that are protected against delays) using Eurostar. I consider paying up and getting the earlier train (costs double) but head to Greggs instead!
My main thought is my journey door to door is 16 hours and could have been 6 if I’d flown while I’ve driven it in 15 hours. But for once, no delays, no strikes, no floods, no station or track closures or even the wrong type of snow.
The Thalys train was comfortable and smooth – easy to work, sleep or watch videos.
It could be so much better though, surely a direct service (including onward travel with protection from delays) with decent food & drink and improvements to the checkin, luggage handling, passport control and holding areas (with proper restaurants and bars) could be made and still be profitable?
But if you have kids, a lot of gear, in a big group, live near or with easy access to St Pancras, want a day on the beers or really want to show off your environmental credentials then maybe this is for you.
We hear that Courchevel (and other French resorts) really want to improve rail links including Geneva – Moûtiers in the run up to the 2030 Winter Olympics. They say that compared to the Austrians and Swiss they’re way behind – hopefully there’ll be some infrastructure improvements made like the dual carriageway from Albertville constructed for the 1992 Olympics.
There are of course options using Eurostar via Paris (a change of station required) to Moûtiers but also a not widely publicised route using Eurostar to Lille and then onwards via Lyon to Moûtiers. The price of £400 one-way via Paris next Saturday (half term) suggests this route is still very popular!
The Euros in Germany this Summer have huge discounts for match ticket holders across Europe with discounted Interail passes, caps on fares within Germany and free travel on all regional public transport on match days. A brilliant initiative and one we’ll be taking advantage of.
It will be interesting to see what the “Snow Train” offering is next year – we’d do it again for sure, probably….