rail or train tips & strategy

Our expert weighs the convenience and cost of darting between these European hotspots by rail and air.

Eurostar, the high-speed rail service linking the U.K. with continental Europe, launches its long-awaited London to Amsterdam route on April 4. There will be two trains leaving central London’s St. Pancras station each day, the first at 8:31 a.m. (stopping in Brussels and Rotterdam and arriving in Amsterdam at 1:12pm) and the second at 5:31 p.m. (arriving at 10:12pm), with a journey time of three hours and 41 minutes (London-Amsterdam) and three hours and one minute (London-Rotterdam). Tickets went on sale February 20 and start at just $48 each way.

Few would argue that the train journey is more comfortable than being wedged into a plane seat (particularly on a budget carrier) or that hopping on a train leaving from the city center is more convenient and less stressful than the ordeal of getting to and through an airport, but is it faster or cheaper to take the train?

You can book a round-trip easyJet flight between London and Amsterdam for as little as $62 (or $38 one way) with hand luggage. That flight takes about one hour and 10 minutes each way, but you’ll need to get yourself to Luton Airport (which adds another 40-plus minutes and $24 by train) and then, upon arrival, a 20-minute train from Schiphol airport to Amsterdam city center ($5). Factor in one hour at the airport to check in and go through security and that adds up to less than three and a half hours, but it's a lot of logistical travel. Eurostar requires standard passengers to check in no less than 30 minutes before departure time, which makes the flight option roughly 40 minutes quicker than Eurostar’s total time of four hours and 10 minutes. That said, an extra 40 minutes might be worth avoiding the hassle of air travel.

It's the return leg that Eurostar loses some of its convenience factor. That journey from Amsterdam to London connects through Brussels where passport controls and security screening will be carried out. That means you’ll be taking a Thalys train from Amsterdam to Brussels Midi, then changing to a Eurostar service. The fastest journey time for the return leg will four hours and 40 minutes. This connecting return journey is thought to be only a temporary measure while the U.K. and the Netherlands complete an agreement enabling passport checks to be conducted on departure in the Netherlands. “The governments have committed to putting this agreement in place by the end of 2019,” says Eurostar, “so that Eurostar travelers can then enjoy a direct service in both directions.” 

Train travel does still have one major benefit, however. A Eurostar journey from London to Amsterdam emits 80 percent less carbon than the equivalent short haul flight, which provides for a much more eco-friendly trip. 

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