LONDON, Nov. 14 -- The first fare-paying passengers in the Channel Tunnel traveled from London to Paris and Brussels Monday, reaching the two capitals in about three hours on the high-speed Eurostar train. Unlike previous press and V.I.P. trips on the futuristic train, which suffered teething troubles, the regular passenger debut was problem-free and pulled into Paris's Gare du Nord a few minutes early.
Standard class tickets on Eurostar cost 95 pounds ($152) if booked two weeks in advance, and 155 pounds ($248) for more flexibility. Most of Monday's passengers, however, had booked their places years in advance. Journey times are three hours to Paris and three hours 15 minutes to Brussels. The launch of regular passenger services makes the trip to the two European cities faster than traveling to the Scottish capital Edinburgh. The service threatens strong competition for airlines because flying time plus airport registration takes longer than Eurostar, which departs from a specially built terminal at London's central Waterloo station. By 1996 it is planned to have 15 departures per day from each city, bringing combined daily capacity to 35,000 passengers. The 790-seater train reaches 180 mph (288 kph) between northern France and Paris, but the much-criticized lack of high-speed tracks in southeast England limits it to 100 mph (160 kph) between London and the tunnel. Eurostar's 16-coach passenger service complements the Le Shuttle vehicle-carrying trains running between terminals in Folkestone, on the southeast coast of England, and Calais on the north coast of France. Both trains use a 31-mile-long tunnel (50 km) that has taken six years and 10 billion pounds ($16 billion) to complete.