Eurostar and Ebbsfleet
I have recently found out (after purchasing train tickets) that Eurostar will not allow you to load un-bagged bikes at Ebbsfleet International station. As the procedure is that you have to buy your tickets before you can book a space for your bike, I thought it would be worth the CTC publicising this. Fortunately, Rail Europe, through whom I bought the tickets have promised to refund me, as I had discussed the journey with their staff, who were also unaware to this restriction, prior to buying the tickets from their website. Their staff were sympathetic to the difficulties of a cycle tourist if you have to also carry a bike bag with you. Having previously done this when travelling by aeroplane, I have no desire to do it again, which was why I proposed to take the train to the South of France. My family live within easy cycling of Ebbsfleet station, whereas central London is a much more difficult journey with a bike. Would the CTC question with Eurostar why they resrict the loading of bikes at Ebbsfleet? The reason I was given was the train only stopped for a minute and it would take too long. In my experience loading a fully assembled bike is far quicker than loading a bike disassembled and in a large bag. Had this proposed journey gone well, we thought that many places would be more easily accessible by train form Ebbsfleet, but this is not to be
Our public transport guru, Dave Holladay replies:
I’m a bit disturbed that Rail Europe – of which Eurostar is a member – got this wrong. The Eurostar website is quite clear: the carriage of bikes which are not dismantled is through their Eurodispatch service, which is only available from staffed counters in London, Paris and Brussels. The Paris counter is reported to be a pig to find but the London and Brussels counters are relatively easy to use. The bikes are taken from you and loaded by the Eurodispatch staff, along with (typically) the luggage of large parties doing the ‘Grand Tour’ and paying handsomely for luggage transfers etc. The bikes and luggage are locked in to the cargo compartment which is only opened at the main stations (although I think there may be some unloading/loading at Lille). You can collect directly on arrival at the train if you get to the staff quickly with your paperwork to claim the bikes before they go to the Eurodispatch store / counter.
The passenger count at Ebbsfleet is low compared to St Pancras (and Ashford) so Eurostar facilities are minimal, likewise for Ashford, Lille and le Frethun,. So if you have connections at Lille, the only option I am aware of is to bag up the bike within the dimensional limits set. Fortunately it is possible (with removal of one or both wheels) to do this for most bikes and using the CTC polythene sack, you carry the bike on as one of the 2 large items of luggage permitted. However the failure of Rail Europe to have properly briefed their sales staff (or correctly set out this detail on their website) is an issue to sort out. Although Passenger Focus does not, I think, have any remit to report on the performance of, and complaints concerning, Eurostar, I am aware that their chief executive does use Eurostar with his bike from time to time. I can also forward this to my contacts at Eurostar who have seen the use of the cycle booking facility rise by nearly 900% in two years, from the date we introduced it in 2008 (after the Eurodespatch service got settled in at the new and much easier-to-use location in the new station). They like the results and I’m sure won’t be pleased that Rail Europe is getting it wrong.
Bagged bikes also get past the issue for which the German CTC (ADFC) has been hammering on the door of DB and Thalys to resolve – the carriage of cycles on the rest of the High Speed services into Northern Europe, and it also sorts out the occasional problems getting bikes on to some TGV services.
Michael Cramer (German Green MEP) has been a strong supporter for bike carriage on trains throughout the EU as a standard detail, some UK MEP’s have supported his efforts.
CTC plastic bags weigh 0.8Kg and pack down to the size of a telephone directory – less if you cut them down from the 2.5m (tandem-size) to suit your bike – and they last for around 10 trips before generally needing replacement. CTC shop sells over 2000 of these per year. The website includes a link to Chris Juden’s datasheet on packing a bike (for flying) which can equally apply for using long distance trains and coach services (National Express (and with a bit more work on getting it fully formalised) Megabus and Greyhound will carry bikes that are folded or dismantled and wrapped up as luggage.
As an aside I have an interest in observations of how passengers for the local services get to Ebbsfleet. Despite the dire signage and less than pleasant routes for cycling, I suspect a high percentage of the passengers actually cycle from Northfleet and other nearby towns, whilst the vast acreage of flood enhancing tarmac lies empty, and only the two smaller car parks close to the station buildings are used. The DfT experts appear to have totally misread the need and spent £millions on unnecessary car parking space. This picture is repeated elsewhere, whilst they cannot find the money to deliver decent secure cycle parking at the same stations. The malaise is wider in Kent, as Southeastern Trains’ 3% fares increase (against the 1% for all other TOC’s) was justified as being to cover the under-use of the high speed services and losses on car park operation – paying for the huge unused car park at Ebbsfleet perhaps.