Will new Eurostar links to the Netherlands affect air links on London – Amsterdam the same way as it hit London – Paris market?

Eurostar has confirmed its new high speed rail link between London and Amsterdam will launch from 04-Apr-2018 bringing down journey times on the route to just under four hours. Tickets for the much-anticipated new service will go on sale from 20-Feb-2018 with single fares from just £35 return.

The outbound journey from St Pancras International to Amsterdam Centraal is timetabled to take three hours 41 minutes, with two direct trains departing at 08:31 and 17:31. However, the return journey will still take at least four hours and 40 minutes with a required stop in Brussels where passport controls and security screening will be carried out – passengers will have to travel on a Thalys service from Amsterdam or Rotterdam to Brussels, where passport and security checks will take place before boarding a Eurostar to London.

This will be just for an “initial period”, says Eurostar, albeit this “temporary measure” could stretch into 2019 and potentially beyond whilst the governments in the UK and The Netherlands complete an agreement which will enable passport checks to be conducted on departure in The Netherlands as in other key Eurostar destinations. “The governments have committed to putting this agreement in place by the end of 2019 so that Eurostar travellers can then enjoy a direct service in both directions,” says Eurostar.

The new services will also deliver a three hour and one minute outbound link from London to Rotterdam and the fastest journey time between London and Brussels of just one hour 48 minutes, shaving 17 minutes off the normal Eurostar service between the two cities.

The launch of the London to Amsterdam service marks a historic milestone in the expansion of international high speed rail travel. The new route marks the culmination of an extensive investment in high speed rail on both sides of the Channel.

“The launch of our service to the Netherlands represents an exciting advance in cross-Channel travel and heralds a new era in international high speed rail. With direct services from the UK to The Netherlands, France and Belgium, we are transforming the links between the UK and three of Europe’s top trading nations,” says Nicolas Petrovic, CEO, Eurostar.

The big question is how will the new high speed rail connection impact the current air services between London and Amsterdam, a major intra-European market? With over 4 million passengers travelling by air every year between London and Amsterdam, the market is actually around the same size as the London to Paris market at the time of Eurostar’s launch of service in 1994.

The Blue Swan Daily analysis of UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data shows that annual air traffic demand between London and Paris fell by more than 43% since Eurostar made its debut in 1994 from just over 4.0 million passengers then to just 2.25 million in 2016. Since its inauguration, the train operator says its fleet of 28 trains has carried more than 150 million passengers between London and the Continent.

There are far too many parameters to coherently answer the ‘Plane versus Train’ debate, especially for routes over distances such as from London to Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. Whether it is environmental versus financial versus convenience considerations it can simply just come down to where Point A and Point B are as to which is the faster form of transport.

Although air travel will logically retain the strong transfer flows that are established via Charles De Gaulle and Schiphol airport hubs in Paris and Amsterdam, there is a clear degree of modal switch for point-to-point passengers. High speed rail has also stimulated the market for travel between London and Paris and as the Netherlands grows in popularity as a key business and tourism hub, the potential for the new service and the overall market is significant.

CHART – The air market between London and Amsterdam is almost double the capacity size of that between London and Paris and has been growing since the start of the decade  Source: The Blue Swan Daily and OAG

Over the past ten years two-way seat capacity between London and Amsterdam has grown +28.6% with year over year growth throughout the 2000s. Last year capacity levels rose +7.3%. The market size is almost double the offering currently available between London and Paris, a market that has fallen -0.8% over the same period.  

But this doesn’t actually tell the full story about the London – Paris market – after declines from the second half of the 2000s continued through to 2013, the offering in this city pair subsequently grew in each of the past three years with annual rate rises of +11.3% in 2014, +5.1% in 2015 and a significant +14.0%in 2016 before falling -9.7% last year.