LONDON (AFP) — A Eurostar train shattered the record for the quickest rail journey between Paris and London on Tuesday, using a new high-speed track that shaved some 30 minutes off the previous fastest time.
The record bid was launched to herald the public opening on November 14 of the new stretch of track in Britain and a new Eurostar terminal at London's Saint Pancras station.
The 306 mile (492 kilometre) journey from the Gare du Nord in Paris to Saint Pancras took just two hours, three minutes and 39 seconds from station to station.
The trip finally signals Britain's admission to the European high-speed rail club, its absence from which has prompted some gentle -- and not so gentle -- ridicule from France in the past.
The Eurostar link between London and Paris was launched in November 1994 after the completion of the Channel Tunnel under the English Channel, the stretch of water which separates England from France.
While trains could travel at high speed on the French side, in Britain speeds were limited before the construction of the new track, which was delayed amid financial problems.
Opening the fast TGV track from Paris to Lille in 1993, the year before the Channel Tunnel opened, the then French president, Francois Mitterrand, chided Britain for its technological backwardness.
"Next year we will set off at high speed across the northern plains, then push into the Channel tunnel, and afterwards we will be able to dream at a very slow speed in Britain to admire the landscape," he said.
Tuesday's train was carrying around 400 guests and hit speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, around twice as fast as the quickest domestic trains in Britain.
When the new Eurostar track comes into service for members of the public in November, the standard time for a journey from Paris to London will be two hours and fifteen minutes.
Driver Neil Meare, who steered the train on the British side of the Channel, said that British drivers used to be embarrassed at having to slow down in their homeland.
"It felt very good to be at the controls today and I believe this is a record which will probably never be broken," he added.
Eurostar bosses argue that the 5.8 billion pounds (8.6 billion euros, 11.7 billion dollars) rail track and terminal upgrade will strengthen the case for travellers to take the train rather than the plane.
"Today marks Britain's entry into the European high-speed rail club," said Richard Brown, chief executive of Eurostar.
Stepping off the train at Saint Pancras, he said he felt "elated" that a new record had been set.
"We were feeling pretty excited this morning although slightly apprehensive about the journey ahead, but we have proved the success of the high-speed line."
"We can now run trains at high speed all the way from the Channel Tunnel to London, making journeys between cities quicker, more convenient -- and far greener than flying."
Eurostar executives had partially attributed a 13.6 percent jump in sales in the first six months of 2007 to an increasing number of passengers who see trains as less environmentally harmful than planes.
The train operator, whose services link London with Brussels as well as Paris, says it will be "carbon neutral" from mid-November and plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25 percent per traveller journey by 2012.
The current London Eurostar terminal at Waterloo, south central London, will close after the opening of the new facility in Saint Pancras, in the north central part of the city.
In an ironic twist for Londoners, though, they found themselves largely stranded in the midst of a strike involving London Underground maintenance workers, bringing nine of the capital's 12 tube lines to a halt.
Trade unions staged the 72-hour industrial action, which kicked off Monday evening, because they wanted guarantees over job losses and pension cuts after a privately owned tube maintenance firm collapsed.
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