Took the Eurostar the other day from Paris to London. Research. Somebody has to do it.
I’m not looking for a spectacular plot involving the Channel Tunnel. No point. It’s all been done before, from Mission: Impossible to John Gardner’s James Bond novel Death Is Forever. I’m looking for something much more down-to-earth and real.
But you won’t see refugee camps from the train. Or desperate people trying to scramble over fences and down the tunnel. Or the tunnel itself as the train speeds along within it – it seems totally dark.
On either side of the tunnel, on both the French and English side, long stretches of railway are fenced off. Signs of Fortress Europe, though you’d hardly know it when you arrive in the bustle of the Gare du Nord.
The Eurostar departure lounge is a large upstairs area in the station. A waiting area just outside the check-in has a grand piano that passengers are welcome to play. All train stations should have one. It is tranquility personified.
But I’m too busy making a mental note of all the security steps, as you do. First you scan the QR code on your ticket to open an automatic barrier (or you can get a manual check by a staff member). This first step proves you have a valid ticket or, to be more precise, a valid barcode.
Next, the airport-style X-ray machines and detectors.
On Eurostar there’s no luggage weight restriction – it’s as much as you can carry onto the train.
And there’s no liquid restrictions either. My luggage contains a three-litre bag-in-box of Merlot that cost me €8 in Monoprix (the things I do for research), and two bottles of a much more expensive wine. No problem.
So how come Security continues to be paranoid about liquids if you are 30,000 feet in the air, yet they don’t seem to care about these very same liquids within a fast-moving train in a cross-channel tunnel? They also manage to overlook – or can’t be bothered with – the corkscrew in my luggage. It’s a foldable “Waiter’s Friend”. With a small pocket knife-type blade.
Next, passport control, with a UK Borders official. This is to prove that I have a valid passport.
In short, then, once you fulfill these three main steps (valid ticket, X-ray machines, legit passport) you’re allowed into the waiting area.
You are now “airside”, as it were. And from here on – at least on this particular day that I’m travelling – there are no other checks. None between the waiting area and the train. None on the train itself. And none at the other end in London at St Pancras.
Am I missing something? Please tell me.
I do not encounter any more rail or security staff. You get on, get off, you’re in London. Not even one of those turnstiles that needs a valid ticket if you want to exit from the station platform.
In theory, all this may seem very logical and hunky-dory. After all, you’ve done passport control once already, they know you have a valid ticket, and this is a non-stop journey from Paris to London. Compared with airline check-in and security it’s a complete doddle.
Yet it gets me thinking…
At an airline departure gate, the standard practice is to ensure that the two names on your passenger ticket and your passport tally. And with air travel there is one further ticket check as the passenger boards the plane.
Yet on my train journey these two particular steps are missing.
Eurostar won’t allow you to check in until two hours before your train’s departure. But that means you could
(a) board an earlier train – the one that leaves exactly one hour before yours – and find an empty seat on it, or even hang out in the train’s buffet car the entire journey, or
(b) board one of several later trains and once again find an empty seat.
Let’s assume there is CCTV everywhere in the station to keep an eye on passengers’ behaviour. Even so, you could play havoc with an alibi….
He couldn’t possibly have murdered Colonel Mustard in the Library with the candlewick bedspread, because he was on the 11.13 non-stop from the Gare du Nord to St Pancras, and at that very moment he would have been two hundred feet under water in the middle of the English Channel!