Ski resorts by train

No trains from Ashford or Ebbsfleet

Fri 09 July, 2021


Daniel Elkan

The first telephone invented wasn't very useful. Neither was the first railway station. There was no one to call, and nowhere to go. 

But once more were added, things started to get interesting.  The more there were, the more interesting things got. That, of course, is called the 'network effect'.

In pre-pandemic days, when I studied at the Eurostar PDF timetable (so that later on I could be interesting at parties), I was always perplexed about how few services called at Ashford particularly, but also at Ebbsfleet. To my mind, these stations can only be an effective part of international journeys if plenty of trains stop at them.  Let's look at Ashford, pre-pandemic:  on a Saturday in winter, there were 14 Eurostar departures from London to Paris. But only two of these called at Ashford. The chance of the train you want calling at Ashford is, therefore relatively small (unless you really don't mind what time you travel).

Of the 13 trains returning from Paris to London on a Saturday, only two call at Ashford.  So for an outbound and return journey to call at Ashford, you basically have to discard any notion of travelling at the times you want, and instead plum for the meagre options that Eurostar has.  I would hazard a guess — and of course I don't have data on this — that this turns the majority of people off from using the station. So this renders Ashford largely pointless. Now, of course, having a train call at an intermediate station adds a few minutes to journey time overall. But as much research about rail travel has shown, the benefits outweight the costs. To my mind, rail companies generally are hung up on trying to make journeys as fast as possible, rather than focusing on the experience on board and the network effect of trains calling at useful places. Kent has a population of nearly two million people.

Ashford could be a really useful station.  I hear from plenty of skiers who state that Ashford would be there ideal choice, because they live in Kent or a surrounding county and would prefer to catch the Eurostar there than having to travel into St Pancras. So the lack of Eurostars calling at Ashford feels like a huge missed opportunity. Campaign group, Railfutures, has been campaigning about Ashford station for many years.

Now, the Ski Train was an exception, because it's one train and it called at Ashford in both directions.

Post pandemic
As for any travel company or rail operator, the pandemic has been hugely challenging for Eurostar. In September 2020, Eurostar made the decision to suspend their operators at Ashford and Ebbsfleet stations. That's understandable.  With hardly anyone travelling into Europe at that time on Eurostar, keeping international services running would be like taking pound notes and burning them.

Eurostar stated at the time that services wouldn't reopen 'until 2022 at the earliest'. 

Here are some of the articles about the closure:

Yesterday I asked Eurostar's press office whether there was any update about this. A press office spokesperson told me: 'There is no further detail for us to share on our Kent stations'.

Eurostar has put London - Paris trains on sale for dates until the end of April 2022. As pandemic restrictions lift and traveller confidence returns, it will add more trains to the schedule.  But my hunch is that for the entire winter season, up to and including April 2022, Ashford and Ebbsfleet stations won't be running international trains.

I hope I'm wrong.  But more than that, I hope that Eurostar starts taking those stations seriously and recognising how useful they can be.  I've no idea how Eurostar has done it's calculations.  But unless it 'show's its working' it might have got things wrong.