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Simon Calder, who is also referred to as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been a travel writer for The Independent since 1994. In his regular column, he delves into important travel matters and their impact on readers.
Barry Freeman stood on the platform at Amsterdam Centraal, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the first Eurostar train from London St Pancras. In February 2018, the British expat, who has a passion for high-quality train travel, understood the importance of this momentous occasion. The connection between two major cities in Europe, London and Amsterdam, was now possible through an intercity rail service, opening up new possibilities for international travel.
Traveling by train from London to Brussels, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam was a sought-after journey for those wanting to avoid the inconvenience of flying or having to switch between trains and ships for those sticking to land transportation.
At first, it was only a single-sided miracle. The main issue was that Eurostar depended on border controls that were placed side by side. All passengers traveling to the continent were screened and cleared for entry into the European Union while still at London St Pancras International. This wasn’t a problem five years ago when the UK was still pretending to be a part of the EU. French border officials simply made sure that all British passengers had a valid passport that belonged to them. However, when traveling from Amsterdam, it took additional time to make room for the required security checks and passport procedures within the beautiful yet limited Centraal station.
The UK government achieved their goal of completing Brexit and also secured equal treatment for British travelers in comparison to those from Tonga and Venezuela when it comes to the European Union. The EU fulfilled our request for all UK citizens to undergo passport checks for any signs of overstaying and receive stamps.
In 2021, the decision made by the British government caused an increase in the amount of time it takes for UK travelers. This has led to Eurostar limiting the number of passengers on trains departing from Amsterdam to London.
The Dutch are planning to update Amsterdam Centraal, similarly to how the British renovated London St Pancras, a 19th-century landmark. However, the British had the added benefit of Eurostar trains operating out of London Waterloo until the new station was completed.
The amount of work needed to secure and check passports for passengers boarding trains to London has caused delays at the Dutch end of the route. Passengers coming from Britain can still disembark, but those heading to Amsterdam must either walk or take a free ferry from the city center. However, trains cannot run directly from Amsterdam to London and will instead travel empty to Brussels.
According to Nicky Gardner, who wrote the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide, Eurostar has adopted the practices of airlines, including having separate terminals and security measures. The reason for this is the UK government’s requirement for Eurostar passengers to go through immigration checks before boarding the train.
She claims that the train not leaving from the city of Amsterdam is a consequence of Brexit, stating, “Eurostar’s unique circumstances and the requirement for specific stations are a direct outcome of the strained relationship between Britain and its European Union counterparts.”
Every day, numerous travelers from outside of the Netherlands enter the country. These trains from other countries stop at more than twenty Dutch train stations.
Eurostar’s requirement for exclusive stations goes against the usual convenience of international train travel. Travelers from the Netherlands taking direct trains to neighboring countries such as Belgium, Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland will not be significantly impacted by the Dutch infrastructure project in 2024 since these trains do not require dedicated terminals.
Mark Smith, also known as “The Man in Seat 61” is a well-known figure in the world of rail travel. Despite the challenges, he remains positive and sees the current situation as a reasonable compromise. The originally estimated 12-month wait has been reduced to six months. However, there will now be a Brussels stop on the London to Amsterdam route. Fortunately, this will also eliminate the need for additional check-in time in Amsterdam, allowing for some time to be saved.
Barry Freeman suggests a straightforward solution: “The UK can become part of the Schengen area, eliminating the need for all this fuss.”
Although uncertainty surrounds travel currently, I find it unlikely that this will occur within the next seven months.