Eurostar connects London with cities through mainland Europe in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
A train journey between London and Paris only takes a little more than two hours.
America has fallen behind in high-speed rail with Amtrak’s Acela pailing in comparison to services like Eurostar.
Europe’s expansive rail network has long surpassed America’s in nearly every aspect, connecting cities across the continent with efficient downtown to downtown service unavailable to most Americans.
Multiple European countries have been working towards greater rail connectivity on the continent while Amtrak has dominated national rail travel in the US. American high-speed rail, as a result, has been limited to a handful of cities with no plans to expand it on a national level.
America’s first true foray into European-style high-speed rail came in 2000 with Amtrak’s Acela Express, now known simply as Acela.
But there’s been little progress since then. Acela is the only high-speed line operated by Amtrak and takes passengers solely between New York, Boston, and Washington, DC, with stops in major cities in between.
New trainsets are scheduled to debut in 2022 but even still, journey times will only slightly improve as the winding train tracks that prohibit consistent high speeds will remain the same.
Eurostar, alternatively, connects London with mainland European cities as far south as Nice, France and as far east as Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its trains reach speeds of nearly 186 miles per hour,
I took Eurostar between London and Paris after taking three trips on Acela during the pandemic. Here’s which one was better.
Eurostar’s London-Paris route is arguably its most popular and well-known. The two capital cities are connected in just over two hours through the Channel Tunnel, also known as the Chunnel.
A round-trip ticket for a Parisian day trip just a few days after the UK opened to French visitors cost $239.
Three classes of service are available including “standard,” “standard premier,” or “business premier,” basically the equivalents of economy class, premium economy class, and business class, respectively, on an airplane.
I booked standard premier class for the London to Paris leg as the upgrade fee was only $13, and standard for the return journey. The upgrade came with more spacious seats as well as a light meal and drinks served at the seat.
Acela, by comparison, only has two classes of service including business class and first class.
But Acela’s business class is more akin to a standard coach class as there are no added perks beyond a large recliner and having a ticket onboard the high-speed trail.
I arrived at London’s St. Pancras International Station around an hour before my Eurostar train’s departure to Paris. This is where the process got complicated.
I collected my ticket from a self-serve kiosk and headed to the departure area. The first step was completing a COVID-19 questionnaire required for travel to France.
Next came the security screening checkpoint which was similar to those found in airports. Amtrak trains, even those bound for foreign countries, do not require these types of screenings.
The security check was followed by a quick stop at the UK Border Force to scan my passport out of the country.
The final stage of the check-in process was clearing French passport control. A major benefit to taking Eurostar is clearing passport control in the departure country.
Once clear of the security formalities, passengers are directed to a seating lounge to wait before the platform is called. On Acela, it isn’t uncommon to wait in the main hall of a station until the train is nearing the station.
There was no shortage of seats in the departure lounge, as well as passengers that prefer to wait by the door to the platform. A small duty-free shop and cafe were also open for passengers.
Both Eurostar and Amtrak offer their top paying customers access to private lounges within stations, similar to premium airline lounges in airports. Eurostar “business premier class” ticket holders can access Eurostar lounges in Paris, Brussels, London, as well as partner lounges at stations in the Netherlands.
Holding a first class ticket also affords Acela riders into Amtrak’s Metropolitan Lounges.
The platform was opened to passengers 20 minutes before departure and up we went.
Eurostar’s trains are massive with 16 cars in total on this trainset. Walking down to my car took quite a bit but I wanted to be closer to the front so I would have a shorter walk upon arrival in Paris.
Red carpeting quite literally guided the way into the standard premier car. There were fewer seats in this car that gave it a more exclusive feel with more space to stretch out.
All Eurostar seats are reserved so there was no need to rush to find an open spot.
Amtrak, alternatively, just recently introduced reserved seating on all Acela trains.
The seat map even shows which seats are obstructed by a window, and which offer a view.
The stylish chairs in standard premier are arranged in a 1-2 configuration, with the exception of the tables that offer two pairs of seats that face each other.
Each seat also has amenities including a personal reading lamp…
European and UK power outlets and USB charging ports…
And storage compartments under the armrests.
It was exactly what I was expecting from European rail. The seat products looked so modern and clean on my journey that they seemed brand new.
Even standard class has stylish seats arranged in a 2-2 configuration, with table seats spread throughout the car.
Those seats similarly have European and UK power outlets and tray tables.
Acela, by comparison, has a tired interior of blue leather recliners in business class.
Amtrak has not given Acela the same upgrades that its long-distance trains are currently receiving.
Our 8:01 a.m. train departed from London on-time and quickly advanced through the city’s tunnels bound for the Chunnel.
Eurostar’s Siemens British Rail Class 374 trains, also known as the E320, have a top speed of 186 miles per hour. And I could feel that speed as we soared through the countryside.
Acela’s Bombardier/Alstom trainsets are limited to 150 miles per hour, which it can only achieve on straight stretches of track north of New York City.
Complimentary WiFi was available throughout the entire journey, even in the Chunnel.
A light meal was included in the price of my standard premier ticket and it consisted of a croissant, bread roll, yogurt, water, and a selection of coffee and tea for breakfast. It was tasty and I couldn’t argue with the value since I only paid $13 for the upgrade.
The one downside was that the silverware still had crumbs on it after it had been cleaned. It was the first thing I noticed after taking the fork, knife, and spoon out of its packaging.
Those in standard class have the option of visiting the cafe car, called “Cafe Metropole,” or bringing snacks onboard the train.
The menu is reasonably priced but I could see just as well not having to eat anything since the journey is so short.
Meals on Acela are only served in first class, which is often a substantial buy-up from standard business class. But snacks and drinks can be purchased in Acela’s cafe car
There isn’t much by way of entertainment on Eurostar beyond the WiFi and overhead screens that gave fun facts about things like how deep the Chunnel is.
Acela similarly offers free WiFi but entertainment is limited beyond that.
Signage onboard the Acela is also more reminiscent of a New York City subway car than it is a premium travel product.
The experience on Eurostar did feel quite premium, more so than I’ve ever felt on Acela. This was a train ride worth dressing up for.
Arriving in Paris, we had made the roughly 200-mile journey in two hours and 16 minutes flat.
Not even Acela’s non-stop service between New York City and Washington could beat that time, even though the cities are roughly the same distance apart.
If I had to choose between taking Acela or Eurostar with all other things being equal, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Eurostar.
The major downside to Eurostar is that extra security checks are required for those traveling between the UK and mainland Europe. I made sure to arrive extra early for each Eurostar journey whereas, on Acela, I can get to the station just a few minutes before departure and have time to spare.
Intra-European Union train lines don’t have the same hassle and are arguably as easy to take as Acela.
But I can’t fault Eurostar for international travel requirements. And what its train services lacks in convenience in that aspect, they make up for in incredibly fast and stylish journeys.
Acela will see improvements when its new Aveila Liberty trainsets arrive. New seating will replace the tired blue leather…
And the cafe car will be modernized with digital menus.
Every seat will also have power outlets, USB charging ports, and adjustable reading lights.
So while Amtrak may never fully catch up to Eurostar in all aspects, Americans will soon get a high-speed upgrade to help bridge the gap.
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