RIP: Waterloo International


Faded glory

A quick introduction for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term – the Eurostar is the international train service that operates through the Channel Tunnel (the 31.4-mile rail tunnel under the English Channel that links the UK and France – itself with a remarkable story probably worthy of a post on its own).  The primary services are London-Brussels (about 1 hour, 50 minutes, with 11 daily trips) and London-Paris (about 2 hours, 15 minutes, with 17 daily trips); there is also one daily train direct from London to Disneyland Paris (or, if you remember the 1990s, EuroDisney) and infrequent seasonal services that continue to the south of France (to Avignon in the summer and to the Alps for skiers in the winter).  For the record, the tunnel opened in 1994, and the Eurostar service began on November 14, 1994.

Of course, the tunnel is also used by international freight trains, and the Eurotunnel Shuttle service, which transports both passenger cars and trucks through the tunnel (which functions as a ro-ro, for The Wire fans out there).

Ro-Ro in action!

But, as usual, I digress…the tunnel is itself quite interesting and probably worthy of its own post.  But this post is about Waterloo International reaching its waterloo!!

First, why Waterloo International?  Although the Eurostar had slick new high-speed rail lines to use in France, and later Belgium, it connected to dumpy old regular train lines in England, and needed a London home.  Waterloo is the largest of the 13 mainline rail terminals in Central London, so it had room, and there was a way to relatively easily route the trains there (although, it did require the construction of a new connection).  As the first international train station in the UK, serving 1/4-mile long trains, this was no small undertaking – the terminal was finished in 1993 (by the time of the tunnel’s original scheduled opening, not when it was actually done!) at a cost of £135 million.

The roof had to cover 5 platforms that are more than 1,300 feet long

I certainly can’t understand the cultural and social implications of this whole thing, but suffice it to say that the tunnel, a frequent proposal from at least 1802, was just as often dropped not as much for technological reasons (although they were formidable) but for national security reasons!  Don’t forget that we have NO CLUE what war on our homeland is like in the US.  It is also worth mentioning, then, that the French were a bit upset with the choice of Waterloo as the London terminal – they found it humiliating to have to exit the joint international train at a place erected to commemorate the failure of the original short man himself, Napoleon.

Anyway, how quickly the new becomes old; after EXACTLY 13 years of service, Waterloo International died on November 14, 2007.  The UK finally got with the program and finished construction of a high-speed rail line to connect London with the tunnel (a line which has been given an amazingly unique and memorable name: High Speed 1).  This 67-mile line cost £5.2 billion ( including 15.5 miles of tunnels), and allows for speeds between 143 and 186mph.  Alas, it doesn’t go to Waterloo, it goes to St. Pancras (a name that, while I’m sure the French can find some objection, is at least not as directly insulting!), where £800 million was spent to rebuild the station there (and although that is heavy money, the place IS really nice).

Barely a teenager, Waterloo International, we didn't even know you!

So that takes us back to the inspiration for this post – the fact that, at one end of the busiest and largest rail terminal in London, a complex where more than 95 million National Rail customers and 77 million London Underground customers passed through gates (ok, so many of those are the same people, but still!), there is a ruin.  In this busy and crowded place, there is a huge separate station that sits empty and forgotten.

Empty and forgotten

It is really quite strange!  That’s it, just strange…a weird thing to find in the middle of bustling modern London.  The wide roadway outside the street entrance is totally empty, like an abandoned airport terminal.  Now, to be fair, there is talk of at least using the platforms for more national (not INTER) rail trains, but apparently it will take a  lot of £s and until 2014 to make that happen.  So, for now, whenever we go to our London terminal at Waterloo, and head out toward the Thames, the London Eye, and Westminster Bridge, we will pass a modern ruin.  At least the ruins of castles and churches littering the British landscape were all used for way more than 13 years!

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Posted on 02/06/2010, in Exploring the UK, Transit, travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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