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Rail Channel Tunnel Rail Link

True high-speed link from the Channel Tunnel to new international station at St Pancras. Eurostar services now use the link, with high-speed domestic services to Kent due in 2009.

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) is a new high-speed railway from the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone to St Pancras in central London, with intermediate stations at Ashford in Kent, Ebbsfleet (close to the M25 near the Dartford Crossing) and Stratford in east London.

It was built in two phases; the first phase between the Tunnel and Swanscombe in northwest Kent (where it linked into existing lines) has been complete for several years, whilst the second phase - which includes new stations at Ebbsfleet and St Pancras - opened for passenger service on 14 November 2007. An additional station at Stratford, East London will open in 2009.

The full link has reduced journey times significantly, with trains reaching Paris in 2 hrs 15 mins and Brussels in 2 hrs. All trains to and from the continent moved overnight from the previous terminal at Waterloo to St Pancras, and most trains' stops at Ashford will be substituted by stops at Ebbsfleet near Dartford, leaving Ashford with a skeleton service to Paris only. Waterloo International will be handed back to the Government, eventually to be re-used for enhanced mid/long-distance South West Trains services.

The importance of the CTRL for the ordinary London commuter is mainly for the Kent domestic (CTRL-DS) services. These will run from St. Pancras International, taking 8 minutes to reach Stratford International and 15 minutes total to reach Ebbsfleet International, just outside the M25 near Bluewater in Kent, where a massive housing development known as Kent Thamesside is planned.

(Note: Detailed information on St. Pancras International is held on the King's Cross Upgrade project page).

After Ebbsfleet, CTRL-DS trains will either run onto the existing Medway lines or will continue to Ashford on the CTRL and then travel via existing lines to their final destinations.

Whilst the infrastructure itself will open in November 2007 for Eurostar services, domestic commuter services to Kent will not begin operating until December 2009.

Stratford International

This massive station will be built in a sunken "box" in the ex-railway lands just to the north of the current Stratford station (to be known in future as Stratford Regional). Road access will be from Winterden Road to the west.

Being quite a long walking distance away from Stratford Regional, there has been argument about what constitutes an appropriate link between the two stations. There will be a DLR link between the two stations, but some parties don't consider this a "fixed link", and want a travelator to also be installed at a cost of about 25m.

Stratford International is key to the London 2012 Olympics as well as a massive new development called Stratford City will be created around the International station.

Unfortunately, although Stratford International will be completed along with the rest of the CTRL infrastructure in 2007, it will not open until 2009 when the high-speed commuter train fleet is ready to begin operating, even though Eurostar trains will be passing through it from late 2007; this is the result of money-saving measures by Eurostar. [London Travelwatch press release & Times article, 12 Sep 06]

Integrated Kent Franchise (IKF)

A new franchise for South Eastern Trains has been let to include the new CTRL Domestic (CTRL-DS) services to St. Pancras. This has lead to some controversy, as some fast services to existing London termini - which are slower than CTRL-DS, but serve more convenient locations like Cannon St in the heart of the City - would be removed.

The service pattern will be as follows:

  • Base
    • London - Ebbsfleet - Medway - Sittingbourne (2tph*)
    • London - Ebbsfleet - Ashford - Canterbury W - Margate (1tph)
    • London - Ebbsfleet - Ashford - Folkestone - Dover (1tph)

    * except busiest two hours of each peak, when it is reduced to a London - Ebbsfleet shuttle

  • Peak
    As above, but including:
    • London - Ebbsfleet - Medway - Broadstairs (+1tph)
    • [portion of Dover services] - Canterbury W - Ramsgate (+1.5tph, missing stops at Wye, Sturry or Minster)
    • [portion of Ashford + Margate services] - Folkestone - Dover (+1.5tph, missing stops at Sandling or Folkestone West)

Below are some of the resulting frequencies and approximate journey times for key locations:

  • Gravesend: 23 mins, 2tph offpeak / 5 trains in 3-hr peak
  • Chatham: 44 mins, 2tph offpeak / 5 trains in 3-hr peak
  • Ashford: 37 mins, 2tph offpeak / 6 trains in 3-hr peak
  • Canterbury: 61 mins, 1tph offpeak / 5 trains in 3-hr peak
  • Folkestone: 63 mins, 1tph offpeak / 5 trains in 3-hr peak
Other considerations
  • Hastings was considered, but track layout at Ashford currently forbids this without a penalty to other services. Electrification would also be required.

A premium will be charged for CTRL-DS fares. Single fares will attract a premium of around 1 or 2, whilst season tickets via CTRL would be around 25% more than via the slower services. [London Travelwatch, Mar 2006]

Travelcards would not be valid between St Pancras and Stratford (unless they were add-ons to a CTRL ticket), but Railcards would attract the usual discount on CTRL fares.


Artist's impression of the new CTRL Domestic stock from Hitachi

Artist's impression of new Hitachi CTRL Domestic stock (from Hitachi Rail)

An order will be placed with Hitachi for 30 six-car trains (known as "A-trains"). Each train will be able to rapidly couple to form a 12-car unit - this will be important to make best use of capacity on the CTRL, by running the coupled trains on the CTRL and splitting them to go to different destinations when they leave it.

The trains will be based on Hitachi's Series 400 Shinkansen (bullet train) stock. This design was used for stock which started service in Japan in 1992 for services which used the high-speed Shinkansen network for most of their journey but ran beyond it onto existing routes at the end of the journey. This is a very similar setup to the services planned for the CTRL.

CTRL Temple Mills Depot, Stratford (from Union Railways website)

Impression of the new Eurostar depot at Temple Mills (from Union Railways)

A 402m depot will be constructed on vacant railway lands at Temple Mills, Stratford (on the edge of the Olympic site). It will replace the current depot at North Pole in North Kensington, avoiding the need for Eurostars to use capacity on the North London Line on the way between St. Pancras and the depot.

Further proposals

Regional Eurostar

This was a proposed service direct from Paris/Brussels to the West Coast Main Line (i.e. Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow) and/or East Coast Main Line (i.e. Leeds, York, Edinburgh). A link is being constructed between the CTRL and the WCML at St. Pancras. However, the service is "under review" which means it is postponed indefinitely.

High Speed Network

An extremely long-term aspiration for the distant future might be connection of the CTRL to the backbone high speed line proposed over the last few years.


(newest first)
Power switch on for Channel Tunnel Rail Link
2007-01-09 16:27:41

Power has now been switched on for the second phase of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link between Ebbsfleet, Kent and St Pancras in London, ahead of a November start to passenger services. The switch on allows test trains to run and will prevent thieves stealing the wires - a significant problem last year when thousands of pounds of cabling was stolen at Ebbsfleet.

Eurostar to reduce Ashford service and delay Stratford use
2006-09-13 17:14:47

Eurostar will remove Brussels services and reduce Paris services to just three a day at Ashford International next year as part of a cost-cutting plan, which will also see the opening of Stratford International delayed to coincide with the start of the new high-speed Kent commuter services. Most existing Ashford service stops will be switched to the new Ebbsfleet International station, a giant "parkway" station with 9,000 car park spaces near the M25 close to Dartford. There are fears that Eurostar will eventually abandon Ashford if keeping a presence there is too costly for such a low level of service.

CTRL Domestics will run to Dover
2006-07-31 14:32:22

Ntework Rail will carry out improvements to the Shakespeare Tunnel to the west of Dover in order to allow high-speed domestic commuter services on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to reach Dover Priory when they begin operating in 2009.

Completion of Stratford Int'l brings service doubts
2006-05-08 14:49:10

Stratford International station has now been completed, but Eurostar are uncertain whether Eurostar services will actually call there, meaning that the station could be unused until domestic services arrive in 2009.

Regeneration benefits required for Channel Tunnel Rail Link viability
2006-05-08 09:37:30

A report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has said that although it is a prestigious project, the economic case for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) is still marginal and cannot be justified on passenger numbers alone - therefore regeneration benefits are crucial to its viability. It also highlighted potential cost overruns as a result of construction cost rises.

Govia wins Integrated Kent Franchise
2005-12-16 13:20:00

Govia, the current operators of Southern and Thameslink (which has since been re-awarded to First), have been awarded the forthcoming Integrated Kent Franchise from 1 April 2006. The new franchise includes high-speed domestic trains on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link from 2007, and Olympic Javelin services in 2012.

Contracts signed for CTRL domestic trains
2005-06-02 14:23:06

The SRA announced that it signed a contract with Hitachi for 28 new high-speed trains to operate domestic services from Kent to St Pancras via the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The contract is worth 250m, and should deliver trains in time for the Kent Domestic services to run from 2009.

Unions angry over re-franchising of Kent train franchise
2005-01-18 10:39:16

Leaders of the RMT and TSSA are angry that the government is continuing with plans to put the South Eastern Trains franchise back into the private sector (as the new Integrated Kent Franchise). They believe that the franchise - which has seen reliability and punctuality levels rise since the Strategic Rail Authority took it in-house in November 2003 - should remain in the public sector.

TfL want new terminals to handle CTRL freight
2005-01-18 10:34:17

A TfL-commissioned report says that the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link offers a unique opportunity to deliver freight into London - but only if new freight facilities are provided in London. Only two major freight terminals currently exist in London, at Ripple Lane and Ford Dagenham, both in LB Barking.

SRA announce candidates for Kent train operations
2005-01-17 16:35:41

The SRA have announced a shortlist of bidders for the Integrated Kent Franchise, which will involve all trains between Kent and London, including the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link Domestic services into St Pancras from 2009. The candidates are:

  • Stagecoach with DSB (Danish State Railways)
  • First
  • GNER with MTR (Hong Kong transport operator)
  • Go-Ahead with Keolis

402m for Eurostar Stratford depot
2004-11-16 16:40:38

The government has announced that it will provide 402m for the construction of Eurostar's new depot at Temple Mills in Stratford, on the edge of the proposed Olympic site.

Eurostar will abandon Waterloo
2004-11-16 16:31:05

Eurostar have confirmed plans to abandon their Waterloo base completely when Phase 2 of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link opens to St Pancras in 2007. Originally it was planned to have some trains still use Waterloo for travellers in the south west, but cost reasons are cited as behind the change. The International platforms at Waterloo could be used by SWT to increase their capacity at Waterloo, improving domestic services.

Eurostar benefits the provinces too
2004-11-07 14:03:20

Eurostar will be promoting quick journeys to Paris and Brussels to travellers from the East Midlands and East Anglia using quick pedestrian connections at King's Cross, St. Pancras and Stratford onto the new rail link opening in 2007. They believe prices and journey times will beat flying for a number of towns and cities to the north and northeast of London.

Order for Kent high-speed trains announced
2004-10-27 07:43:03

Transport Secretary Alastair Darling announced today that 30 six-car 140mph trains will be ordered from Hitachi to run domestic services between St Pancras and Kent via the high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link. The cost will be 300m and the trains should enter service in 2009. They will be expected to run services to the Olympic Park in Stratford should London's 2012 bid be successful.

Domestic services on CTRL delayed
2004-10-13 09:33:19

Domestic services from London St Pancras to Kent using the high-speed Channel Tunnel Rail Link have been delayed by at least a year as the government has not yet decided on the trains to buy to run on it. The trains will have to be specially designed for running at up to 186mph and are thus predicted to be expensive.

Plans for Eurostar new Stratford depot submitted
2004-08-17 18:32:32

Eurostar have submitted their plans for a new 260m maintenance depot on the old railway lands at Temple Mills near Stratford to Waltham Forest Council. The new depot will be next to Stratford International station and will house 28 trains.

Eurostar passengers up by 19% thanks to rail link
2004-07-05 13:19:29

After the opening of the first stage of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, between Ebbsfleet and the tunnel, passenger numbers on Eurostar have increase by 19% over the same period (Jan - Jun) last year. Revenue is up 16%.

LTUC criticises CTRL domestic services
2004-05-05 16:41:05

The London Transport Users' Committee has criticised the planned introduction of domestic services from St Pancras to Kent on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. It believes that as Thameslink 2000 will not be in place to distribute passengers from St Pancras, severe overcrowding would occur at that station.

Work begins on Stratford International
2004-03-24 05:37:34

The CTRL tunnels are now complete so on Tues 23 Mar the first stone for the new Stratford International station was laid.

Eurostar considers closing Waterloo International
2004-03-12 12:05:15

Eurostar is considering closing their terminal at Waterloo when the rail link to St Pancras opens in 2007. Maintaining a Eurostar presence at both terminals would be expensive, and the five International platforms at Waterloo could be used to enhance capacity and relieve congestion for domestic and surburban services into Waterloo.

Links & Sources

  1. Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Union Railways)
  2. Photo gallery of work in progress
  3. SRA Consultation Document (04 Feb 04) [PDF]
  4. SRA: Integrated Kent Franchise Stakeholder Briefing Document [PDF]

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