Operator: Southeastern HighSpeed Headcode: 1J16 Route: STP-DVP Class: Standard Seat: A19 Date: Friday 24th July 2020
At just after half past 8 on the penultimate Friday in July, I pulled out of St. Pancras International (STP) on a momentous day, my first railday in months! The Government guidance had recently changed to allow the use of public transport for non-essential travel and so with my facemask in hand (well on face) I headed down to King’s Cross and crossed the road, ready to review the UK’s fastest domestic rail service.
Operating across HighSpeed 1 (HS1) and conventional railway, Southeastern HighSpeed (SEHS) provide services from towns in Kent to STP via Ebbsfleet International and Stratford International. These services have operated since 2009 and vastly reduce journey times from Kent into central London. Off-peak a journey from the sea-side town of Margate into Charing Cross can take up to 2 hours 14 minutes, whilst via HS1 to STP this takes just 1 hour 28 minutes, a saving of 46 minutes.
I had decided to head to Dover for the day and so made sure to be up early and ready to catch the 0834 hourly service to Dover Priory. This service stops at just five stations en route to the port town, compared to the 14 on regular services from Charing Cross and the whopping 19 stops on services from Victoria.
The first stop after leaving STP is Stratford International just 6 minutes later. Stratford International is an oddity in that it has no international services serving it as all Eurostar trains pass through without stopping. Halfway through the 12-mile tunnelled London section of HS1, Stratford International interchanges with the DLR and is about a 10-15 minute walk to the Stratford regional station.
After a quick stop in East London, we continue along HS1, coming out of the London tunnels near to Rainham station and the A13 dual carriageway. We soon climb onto a viaduct, crossing the Tilbury branch of C2C twice before diving under the Queen Elizabeth II bridge and into another tunnel under the Thames. Close to the south bank of the Thames we emerge from the darkness into Kent and soon stop at Ebbsfleet International.
Ebbsfleet International is the only other station served by only HS1 services, although unlike Stratford it does get Eurostar services with 13 trains per day serving France and Belgium. Whilst there is not a direct connection to the conventional National Rail network, Northfleet station is just 400m to the Northwest, allowing some sort of interchange, whilst good access to the A2 and M25 meant Ebbsfleet was used as a key park & ride site during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. The 20-minute run from Ebbsfleet to Ashford was the longest gap between stations on the journey and the final stretch of HS1 we would travel along en route to Dover.
The Class 395 ‘Javelins’ were Hitchai’s first trains sold to a European customer and given they are now 13 years old, it was interesting to see how they compared to the newer class 80Xs that operate fast services around the UK. Although there is no first-class onboard, I’d say that the seats throughout the train were on par to modern fabric first-class seats. Each pair of seats has a standard plug socket between them and each middle carriage has 4 tables spread throughout (the ends only have 2). There’s wi-fi throughout but no catering is available on any Southeastern service including HighSpeeed. Interestingly as part of the Wi-fi service, SouthEastern provide ‘SouthEastern Motion’ which has a range of TV shows, Magazines, E-books and games to play during the journey.
After an extended stop at Ashford to allow for the train to divide (only the front 6 carriages continue to Dover), we re-join the conventional railway on our way to the coast. Continuing parallel to HS1, we pass through a number of smaller stations on the South Eastern Mainline before calling at two of the three stations serving the town of Folkestone. Although there are no longer any ferry services from the port at Folkestone, the town plays a key part in cross-channel travel with the northern terminus of the Eurotunnel Shuttle being located in the suburbs. In 2017 10.4 million passengers and 21.3 million tonnes of freight used the shuttle, whilst 11.7 million passengers and 34.6 millions tonnes of freight used the nearby Port of Dover.
After a journey of just over an hour we passed along the western edges of Dover before curving north away from the docks, and the former station here, and passing under the Western Heights into Dover Priory station. Dover Marine/Western Docks station still exists although no longer has any connection to the rail network and is used as the cruise terminal for the Port of Dover.
All in all, my journey with Southeastern Highspeed was about what I expected. For an all standard class product, it has all the standard amenities and I think the ‘Southeastern Motion’ onboard entertainment sets it apart from other services. Although it’s a shame Southeastern don’t having catering onboard these HighSpeed services, it is understandable given the commuter nature of their railway. If I’m heading to the Kent Coast, I’m definitely opting for HighSpeed again in future as personally the additional cost is outweighed by the time saving (especially when looking at the Margate/Ramsgate routes).
Lounge 0* Seat/Facilities 4* Food 0* Service 3* Punctuality 5* Overall Rating 12/25 (read about my rating system here!)