Page last updated at 11:36 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Victory for Eurostar campaigners

By Clark Ainsworth
BBC News, Brussels

Passengers arriving at Brussels
Eurostar has reintroduced an Ashford to Brussels service

The return of Eurostar services between Ashford and Brussels has been hailed as a victory for passenger power.

The Kent town lost its service to Belgium and had its services to Paris reduced in November 2007 following the opening of Ebbsfleet International.

More than 11,000 signed a petition opposing the cuts and local MPs and MEPs also campaigned for the decision to be reversed.

Eurostar reintroduced an early morning Ashford to Brussels service on Monday but has warned passengers that if they do not use the route it will be axed again.

On a slightly chilly February morning, a dozen or so campaigners turned out to wave off the train, which can make it to Brussels in less than two hours.

'Hard campaign'

The train leaves St Pancras in London before pulling in to Ashford. However, the company warned it needed at least 25 people to join the train in Kent to make the stop commercially viable in the long-term.

Eurostar says taking on passengers at the station adds up to eight minutes to the journey time - a potentially crucial difference in the battle to win over business passengers who may be tempted to book air tickets.

For Monday's service, about 40 people joined at Ashford - but that included journalists and civic leaders who were making the trip to mark the campaign's success.

Ashford MP Damian Green said: "It is a victory. I'm delighted to be here because over the past 15 months I often thought I wouldn't see the day when we had the direct Ashford to Brussels service back.

"But now we have and I'm grateful to Eurostar for changing their mind to everyone who supported what was a long and hard campaign.

"This is a very good day for Ashford and everyone who lives and works here because what the direct Ashford to Brussels service does is make Ashford a more attractive inward destination for business.

"We're building all these houses and what we need are jobs. Having a direct service to Brussels makes it much easier to create jobs in Ashford"

A Eurostar train travelling between London and the coast
Ashford MP Damian Green said the reinstated service was a victory

Edith Robson, from the Save our Eurostar campaign group, said: "Thank you very much but can we have more please.

"Britain is really being marketed at the moment with the fall in the pound. We have Canterbury close by and there is a link service to the marshes. It really would be attractive to the day traveller from Europe."

Hasting and Rye MP Michael Foster, who travelled on the first service from Ashford, said: "It makes it possible to make it to Brussels in a day.

"I'm going to meet MEP Peter Skinner, then vote in parliament [in London] and then go back to Hastings this evening.

"People in the east of my constituency, such as Rye, because of Ashford it takes 20 minutes to the Eurostar.

"1066 country is now accessible from Brussels. If you can stop in Ashford and we have the marsh link service [up and running] Rye, Hasting, Bexhill and Brighton are all possible."

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