The Eurostar is a service that I use very often. It is a nice way to go back home to Paris from London. Therefore, I have been confronted with a really weird feeling: every time I arrive in Paris from London or the other way round I feel in a completely different world even if the two cities are both European and global capitals that might be perceived as very similar. I would like to focus on the impact this connection might have on the citizens of Paris and London and more specifically on Eurostar users.
The main quality of the Eurostar is that it is a really fast way to travel as it only takes 2 hours and 15 minutes to connect the two cities. This is a great progress in mobility. Every day, thousands of people take the Eurostar and there is one train per hour both ways. What is interesting is to focus on the people who use the service. Something that I have noticed quite recently is the difference of population encountered according to the time of the day and the destination. If you are onboard a train from Paris to London you are often finding yourself with french businessmen going to the City, especially in the morning. Even more, the timing of the trains reveals that reality: the first train from Paris reaches London in the morning at 08:05 leaving time for the businessmen to arrive on time at their meetings. This leads to the second really interesting point. The delay of our businessman’s train might impact him in a pretty bad way. Imagine that he arrives late at his meeting, cannot vote the position of his company and a question, fails his boss and ends up having to change office for a tiny cupboard. His whole life might be collapsing from those 5 little minutes late which would have zero impact on the life of the tourists travelling across Europe or the English family going to Paris for a week end. This emphasis how the time is a construction according to the material experience and the preoccupation of a person.
Also, Paris and London are two cities which lie in different timescale. First, there is actually a one-hour difference between London and Paris. This is emphasis in the Eurostar : even if it materially takes 2h15 to do the journey, the London-Paris journey ‘is’ 3h15 whereas the Paris-London journey ‘is’ 1h15.Furthermore I personally feel like the Eurostar also underlines how much London is a city where we live faster than Paris. As soon as you go out of St Pancras International you can find much more easily a taxi, there are more tubes (approximately one each minute), there is more traffic… This is even more noticeable when coming from Gare du Nord where the traffic is firmly reduced. This introduces a tension in temporality.
The last point I would like to make is about disconnection. Even if roads have an ambition of connection, it might create division. Here, it certainly creates a division between the people who can afford the Eurostar and those who cannot and have to travel by car or bus. This would also separate them in terms of temporality. Finally, the Eurostar might accentuate even more the exclusion from the capitals because the other cities, the smaller ones are not linked to it.
A final word would have to be on the future of the Eurostar. Because it is a multinational company, the regimes of negotiations are multiple. The fact that the enterprise owning the companies is from three different countries but that were all included in the European Union, that might have helped the negotiations. The UK being on the path of Brexit, it might change the organisation of the company but also the symbolism of the Eurostar.
Dalakoglou, Dimitris and Harvey, Penny (2012) Roads and Anthropology: ethnographic perspectives on space, time and (im)mobility. Mobilities, 7 (4) 459-465.