In continuing my series on the accessibility of European trains, I will now focus on a recent trip aboard the Eurostar, between London's St. Pancras International Station and the Brussels Gare du Midi (South) Station.One of the primary benefits of European rail for wheelchair users is the fact that trains operate from city center to city center. Air travel requires commuting to/from the airports, which can be costly and time consuming.
On July 21, I took Eurostar train, #9158, between London and Brussels. Here, I will review that experience and offer tips to make your travels with a wheelchair less stressful.
Please note that the United Kingdom is not part of the Schengen Area. Passengers traveling on the Eurostar will be required to pass through an airport-like security screening and pass through passport control. There are open borders within the Schengen Area, but several countries have opted-out, the U.K. among them.
Booking and Reservation
I made a standard booking at the ticket counter in the St. Pancras train station. The effective rate for the train I desired was approximately £160.00 (British Pounds). Because wheelchair seating is pulled from different inventory, my fare was only £ 41.00. Quite a discount! This was for a seat in the mid-tier Standard Premier class cabin.
Eurostar trains have three classes of service: Standard, Standard Premier and Business Premier. Wheelchair seating spaces are only included in the Standard Premier and Business Premier train cars, but wheelchair users will pay a discounted rate generally equivalent to the lowest available fare on the train. Because wheelchair passengers are automatically booked into the highest class of service available, they may enjoy the benefits of Business Premier for the cost of a Standard class ticket.
Requesting Wheelchair Assistance
Wheelchair service was requested and arranged directly at the ticket desk upon booking. There were no extra steps or hurdles for me to jump. It was a pleasant (and quick) booking experience.
At the station
I met the wheelchair assistance staff in the international departures hall. This area is beyond security and passport control. They were prepared with the ramp on the platform.
Boarding was easy and I was offered assistance with stowing my bags.
On the train
The train was easily accessible. My car featured space for two wheelchairs. I was the only wheelchair passenger onboard. My space was next to an unoccupied seat, presumably for the wheelchair user's companion. The aisle armrest of this seat could be raised, allowing me to transfer to the seat from my wheelchair. Tray tables were located on the setbacks in front of the standard seat and wheelchair space.
The restroom was wheelchair accessible and quite large.
The Standard Premier class includes a snack or meal, delivered directly to your seat. It was tasty. I enjoyed a glass of red wine and a bottle of mineral water together with a bread and cheese plate. Soda, beer and other options were also available.
My train had mechanical difficulty before crossing beneath the English Channel. This led to a 3-hour delay and required changing trains at the Ashford station. Water was served throughout the delay. At Ashford, staff were quick to help with the wheelchair ramp and the transfer between trains went smoothly. Once we were on our way aboard the new train, the rest of the journey was a smooth ride.
The wheelchair ramp was waiting on the platform for my arrival in Brussels. As is standard with air travel, I was last to alight. From arrival to being off the train was less than 5 minutes.
There were information desks in the terminal to assist passengers in planning continued travel. I exited the Gare du Midi station and found the taxi I had arranged with my hotel.
For more information, or to book rail travel in Europe, visit RailEurope.