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Last Updated: Monday, 12 November 2007, 12:49 GMT
Waterloo sunset
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News

Inaugural journey... note the flags on the front
With the champagne and hype overflowing for the new St Pancras international station, it's easy to overlook another more poignant side of the high-speed continental rail link - the closure of Britain's first international rail terminal.

The night before the first services run from the new St Pancras, the last trains will run from Waterloo International - 13 years after the first fare-paying Eurostar passengers set off from London to Paris in a blaze of publicity.

It's easy to forget, back in November 1994, how much of a startling innovation this international station represented. People stopped to look at the sleek, futuristic Eurostar trains, that seemed so exotic on the dowdy suburban lines running through south London.

This was the "end of an island race" announced The Times.

"From today Britain's railways are linked to Europe," said the Guardian. To demonstrate this remarkable fact, a reporter was despatched to a Polish town punningly named Hel so that the newspaper could say that for the first time in history rail travellers from Britain had been "to Hel and back".

Princes Charles and Harry
Princes Charles and Harry prepare to board the Eurostar at Waterloo
Was it any good?

"Compared to planes and ferries, it was sensational: the most brilliant way of going abroad ever invented," gushed the Guardian.

If that sounds a little "calm-down, calm-down", then you have to remember that back in the mid-1990s, in John Major's Britain, before budget airlines, before dot-com travel, we were much less brash about international visits.

The idea of getting on a train in south London and getting off in the centre of Paris really caught the imagination.

"It sent a shiver down my spine to see 'Paris' on the destination board," says Roger Kemp, now a retired civil servant, who on 14 November 1994 was a passenger on the inaugural train from Waterloo to Paris.

"People have got very blasť about travel, but at the time there was a definite air of excitement. That particular moment is one I'll never forget. There was something so symbolic about it."

Sheer disbelief

And he makes an observation that was often repeated by the first train travellers to Paris when they arrived at Gare du Nord.

Eurostar services launched same week as National Lottery
London to Paris air fares in 1994 £80 to £245
Average UK house price in 1994, £65,000
Four Weddings and a Funeral released in cinema
81 million passengers have used Waterloo International
Journey times in 1994 were 2hr 55min to Paris - will become 2hrs 15min
Fastest previous rail and sea journey, the Fleche d'Or, in 1929, 6hrs 30min

"We couldn't believe we were there. It took a second glance. Did we really cross the Channel? It used to take most of a day to get to Paris. Now we were there already."

The architecture of the new £130m station was also something of a triumphant oddity. The snaking glass roof was widely-admired - and the international terminal, designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, won that year's best building prize from the Royal Institute of British Architects for its "power and elegance".

But at the same time, this gateway to the continent was rather strangely tucked away in a corner of Waterloo Station. Alongside suburban workhorses to Woking and Windsor were these international thoroughbreds, trains a quarter of a mile long, carrying more passengers than two jumbo jets.

"It was a shock to the system for some people. You had these huge European trains, these strange monsters in Waterloo Station. There were bi-lingual staff and everything was in three languages (that's English, French and Flemish). This was all new. You got the impression that you were entering a different world, " says Mr Kemp.

On the trains, you could buy French food, ordered in French, spend French money (still francs back then), while looking through the window at the back-gardens of Brixton and Herne Hill rolling slowly by. OK, the food was a heated-up croque monsieur, but this was sophisticated stuff.

Arise Euro-commuter

Once the novelty value had passed, the existence of Waterloo International also created a new type of commuter - the Euro-commuter.

Ulric Jerome, managing director of online retailer, Pixmania, regularly uses the train for work, travelling between Paris and London.

Houses of Parliament
One thing arriving passengers will miss... the view
"It makes the two cities accessible to each other, it brings them closer together. It's extremely convenient, going to the city centre. For a business person, it works."

Mr Jerome, a 29-year-old cross-border e-tailer, shuttling back and forth between the two capitals, is a kind of creation of the Waterloo International era. The high-speed train made it quicker to get from central London to downtown Paris than London to Manchester. The international boundary is a blur through the window.

Won't there be a few tears shed when the lights get turned off at Waterloo for the last time? There will be no more trains pulling in from Paris, Brussels or Provence, no more packs of skiers, no more crowds of kids from Eurodisney.

Even now, people at Waterloo station still peer at the waiting European trains, the way that people used to look up at Concorde. Once the service is transferred to St Pancras, these platforms will - after 12 months of conversion work - be turned over to local rail services.

"It's like moving house, you do look back. Waterloo has been a great home - and many of the staff have been working here since day one," says Eurostar spokesman Gareth Headon.

The rail firm has been trying to gather its own memories of Waterloo International - not least because all the official photos of the first day in 1994 were destroyed in a flood.

Leaving Waterloo for St Pancras will also mean a different set of first impressions of London for new arrivals.

Travel writer and television presenter, Simon Calder, says it means passengers won't have all the sights and diversions of the nearby South Bank.

Arriving in St Pancras, he says, "you don't find a great view of Big Ben and a dozen eating experiences, you find six lanes of traffic on the Euston Road and a distant Burger King beckoning".

The last ever train to depart from Waterloo International, fittingly with the Napoleonic associations, will be the 18.12. Then this pocket-sized patch of the continent will be closed forever.

Below is a selection of your comments.

Farewell Waterloo International. For two rollercoaster years you were a key location in my courtship of Lisa; the scene of sad adieus and joyful reunions. You were the gateway to our engagement. You will always hold a fond place in our hearts.
Hugh U, Dorking, Surrey

I was on the first Eurostar in my former career as a reporter, covering the trip for a regional newspaper in a sleepy rural area. You're quite right to talk about the sense of being in another world - the trains were so different from what we were used to that it seemed to me they weren't trains, but airliners on tracks. However you've left out one major feature of that first day - the first train broke down at the platform and we were all delayed while they got a spare from the depot. Some things don't change!
Andy Darley, Hitchin, Herts

Great for those in London; meanwhile we oop north still await the Eurostar service which never materialised. For one brief moment the local timetable had Parbold followed by Paris Gare du Nord - but of course, it was all a dream.
Geoff Thomason, Stockport, Cheshire

While I'm sure the new station is lovely, the boastful adverts about cutting 20 minutes off travel time are not entirely true. According to the the timetables I have, it will now take me about an hour longer, as I have to take the underground from Waterloo. Not only does this increase travelling time, doing it while carrying a suitcase and trying to keep hold of a toddler is never fun!
Jonathan, Southampton

I wonder how many people who found it convenient to travel directly into Waterloo via the suburban railways to catch a train to the continent will now find it more convenient to take the train to Gatwick instead. It seems a little shortsighted to close down the Waterloo option, especially as more continental train operators seem to be interested in openning services to London
Roger A, Bookham, Surrey

I am one of those Windsor train passengers who gaze upon the Eurostar every day on the way to work, and wish I had my passport with me. With its departure to St Pancras it will probably be a service I no longer use, as Heathrow is closer but Eurostar was always more civilised. I feel sorry for tourists visting London sites, as the easy access to the South Bank and London eye will no longer be such an easy reach. A moment in history which I fear will not be for the better.
M East, London

agree with simon calder - while I am very very impressed with what I have seen of the new St Pancras station and the new speeds will be great, the visitor's first view of london is really rather disapointing (and as someone who lives in london it is not a view i think of as London)

I used to use the Eurostar often for work as getting there from Canary Wharf was very easy. The thought of getting to Kings Cross fill me with dread and I will most likely use City Airport from now on. Its a shame as it was so convenient
Oliver, London

I remember once in London, I awoke on the floor of some flat in Woolwich after a party the previous night, one of my friends was shaking me to wake up. He said "Chris it's a Saturday morning, we could be in Amsterdam by this afternoon." Sure enough, we just got the bus straight up to Waterloo, bought two tickets for Amsterdam. We changed at Brussels and was in Amsterdam later on that afternoon. What a weekend. On the way back, we decided to get off at Ashford to see some friends in Kent. It was late on Sunday evening and we could barely stand up on the way through customs...the looks we got!
Chris B, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Shame it's moving from Waterloo. I recently got a train from Nottingham to St Pancras, then the tube back to Battersea. Arriving at St Pancras was spectacular. However, the long walk outside in the rain to Kings Cross tube station, one of the least pleasant and most confusing stations on the underground took the shine off of it. I really hope that this is sorted before the station opens!
Andrew Lloyd, Battersea, London

St Pancras does offer a great option as it opens up Europe to the North of England too. However, I think it a shame that it doesn't depart from both St Pancras and Waterloo. Waterloo is right in the heart of London and a great location for tourists from Europe.
George, Maidenhead

I rode the Eurostar from London to Lille in June 1995 and it was still a Very Big Deal at that time. My coworkers here in the US were full of questions; my railway enthusiast friends full of envy. I never flew from London to any of the Eurostar cities again as the train was much more pleasant, reliable and convenient.
Craig Zeni, Cary, NC USA

And what now for Waterloo? A study of course to see what to do with it, despite the day being known for years. Any other country would have had more trains for commuters starting today! We're promised more trains by 2025. Normal service has resumed on the rest of UK railways!
Nick G, London

It's a pity to waste such a convenient gateway to europe. couldn't the german railways or even sir richard branson run services to cologne, strasbourg and places east?
j iwanowicz, london

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