Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 13:15 UK

The Javelin, from point to point

By Tom Symonds
Transport correspondent, BBC News


On board the Javelin train

The grandeur of the newly refurbished St Pancras Station would make any hardened commuter feel optimistic about train travel.

But for thousands of commuters, the daily stop-start grind into the centre of London will feel very different once the new high-speed train service begins.

We leave St Pancras and quickly disappear into the two tunnels that take trains on the Channel Tunnel route. When we emerge, the view from the cab is of the Kent countryside flying past at 140mph.

Driver Mick Harding is enjoying himself: "It's absolutely wonderful. It's a lovely machine and very fast, which is what our service is based around. All the drivers love driving it."

From where he sits, it is possible to see why these trains don't need to slow down, or tilt - like their slower cousin, the Virgin Pendolino.

A high-speed line is high-speed because it has gentle banking curves, no junctions and few stations - the service will stop only at Stratford, Ebbsfleet and Ashford before heading onto the conventional rail network to serve other towns.

An older line such as the West Coast has much tighter bends - hence the need to tilt - and numerous junctions and points.

The Hitachi class 395 train also has "in-cab signalling". Instead of the driver having to look out for signals ahead, the train's dashboard shows the speed he must to keep to. There is rarely a need to slow down because of other traffic ahead.

Speed at a price

Southeastern is fond of calling it a "bullet train". It is not as fast as Japan's fastest, or the French TGV. It is not as fast as the 186mph Eurostar.

But it is faster than the Pendolino at 125mph. Which is pretty good for a commuter train.

The 'Javelin' high speed train pulls out of St Pancras

We race past Ebbsfleet Station - it seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but is in fact located for its proximity to the M25. Southeastern believes it will in effect become a massive park-and-ride for London, just 17 minutes away on the new train.

The service will be branded "the Javelin" for the Olympics, during which it will carry visitors from St Pancras to Stratford in just seven minutes.

Wandering back through the carriages, the decor and seating is fairly standard.

As for the prices, they will be paying a premium for the faster journey. The standard fare from Ashford to London return is £40.60, the high-speed ticket will be £48.70.

The route under the Thames, near the QE2 bridge, and into St Pancras is the first link between Kent and London station.

It will also hugely improve the links from parts of North and East Kent, which are in need of an economic boost.

Towns such as Ramsgate and Broadstairs, on the tip of the county, will get a direct high-speed service connected using the existing rail network.

Pulling into Ashford, the Southeastern train company's people are pleased.

On normal trains, this journey takes 80 minutes. On the new service, it will take 37 minutes, but we've done it in less than 30.

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