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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 September, 2003, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Faster Channel rail service begins
Eurostar train
The Eurostar train recently broke the UK rail speed record
The first paying passengers to use the UK's new Channel Tunnel Rail Link have arrived in Paris.

The 1.9bn first section of the link, between Gravesend and Folkestone in Kent, carries Eurostar trains at 186 mph (300 km/h) - cutting the journey time to Paris and Brussels by 20 minutes.

The second 3.2bn section, from St Pancras station in London to north Kent, to be completed in 2007 - 13 years after the tunnel opened - will shave a further 15 minutes off the journey times.

On Saturday, the Eurostar set its fastest journey time between the English and French capitals - two hours 19 minutes, comfortably beating the previous time of two hours 55 minutes.

Regular paying passengers can expect their journeys to take slightly longer at two hours 35 minutes.

The link will also reduce the London to Brussels Eurostar time by 20 minutes, to two hours 20 minutes.

Passengers prepare to board Britain's first high speed train

French trains have been travelling at a top speed of 186 mph (300 km/h) since 1994, when the Channel Tunnel opened.

The Belgians opened their high-speed link in 1997.

On Sunday Eurostar's communications director Paul Charles said the new link was "working brilliantly".

"Not only are trains arriving on time with no delays - but some are actually early. The link really is working its magic."

All trains travelling to London on Sunday were 95% full, Mr Charles added.

"We'll be bringing 20,000 people into and out of London today alone on the new link, and so far there have been no problems at all.

"This is what the link was designed for and it is delivering."

Domestic services in Kent will also benefit from the link with local trains set to use part of it from 2007.

The BBC's Helen Simms
"Many will say 'it's about time'"

High-speed Channel link opens
16 Sep 03  |  England
Passengers may lose out on Link
10 Apr 03  |  England

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