Currently, passengers must disembark in Brussels to be checked by UK Border Force officials.
Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the May 6, 1994 opening of the Channel Tunnel, retired mining worker Graham Fagg shared his memories of the moment he broke through to meet a French colleague tunnelling from the other side.
By a twist of fate, Fagg voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum yet he sees no contradiction with his act of unification.
“I worked on the Channel Tunnel and done the breakthrough, but I actually voted for Brexit. But I don’t see that it’s incompatible,” the 70-year-old told AFP news agency.
The retiree made history on December 1, 1990, when he and his French counterpart Philippe Cozette, made the junction between their respective parts of the tunnel some 100 metres below sea level.
Less than four years later, on May 6, 1994, Queen Elizabeth II and French president Francois Mitterrand cut the ribbon on the new rail link.
Since then the railway line connecting the south-east of the United Kingdom to the north of France has been used by almost 430 million passengers and 86 million vehicles.
For many Britons, the tunnel has come to symbolise the country’s integration with the continent as a member of the European Union.
‘Brexit won’t drive us apart’
Fagg said he supported joining the European Economic Community — the forerunner to the EU — in a 1975 referendum but had not envisaged it would become a political union.
“We voted for a trade deal,” he explained. “I can’t remember anybody ever saying to me, ‘we’re going to turn it into a federal Europe. We’re going to set all the rules and you’ve got to obey them’.”
A lifelong resident of the southeast English port town Dover, where 62% of people backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum, Fagg insisted he wants close future ties with Europe.
This report looks in considerable detail at the economic and strategic case that underlies the planned construction of new high-speed rail lines between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds (HS2). It also looks at how the benefits of investing in the nation’s rail network could be shared more widely across the UK. However, in the debate about HS2, there is only one set of questions that is commonly asked: Should HS2 proceed, be postponed, be cancelled, or at least be re-routed?
The New Economics Foundation’s answer is linked to the evidence. Though HS2 is alluring as a project and enjoys cross-party support, the strategic case that underpins it is unconvincing and leaves the scheme looking like an expensive answer in search of a question.
It is impossible to ignore the reality: Contracts for phase 1 are soon to be let and the government may have already spent more than £4 billion on the project. Furthermore, judging HS2’s efficacy is made more difficult in the absence of a wider rail, transport, or economic strategy, and against a backdrop of poor management and coordination across the network. There is also a lack of available detailed data about passenger movements because it is collected by private enterprises and therefore ‘commercially confidential’.
It is also important that the starting point of any debate about HS2 be the right one. Too often reports arguing against HS2 have started from the principle that it is too expensive and that it would be better to invest in cheaper infrastructure or not invest at all. This is the wrong point of departure as our railways suffer from massive under-investment in every UK nation and region. Putting that right will cost very significant sums of government capital. But in a time when the government needs to rediscover its fiscal role and invest more in productive assets, such as transport, that should not be a major barrier.
The problem with HS2, however, is that it is the product of decades of government retrenchment from the fiscal realm and strategic planning, and of a fragmented rail network, with multiple private sector and public stakeholders. It is also the product of an economy in crisis, an economy desperately trying to unhook itself from London-centricity and all its malcontents, but actually compounding the problem by starting the project in London.
Following a shambolic 18 months on the railways, with disastrous timetable changes, the wrong kind of weather, and the cancellation of planned electrification schemes, the government has launched a ‘root and branch’ review. However, the review is missing some key roots and branches, two of them being HS2 and the latest package of maintenance and upgrades agreed with Network Rail. These have been deemed out of scope but should be included.
There are two fundamental problems with the railways in the UK that, in the interests of ensuring immediate and long-term value for public money, need addressing before the much-needed major investment is committed. The first is the absence of an overarching rail or transport strategy, which leaves HS2 looking like the solution to a problem that has not yet been defined. It is what many in the rail industry call an engineering-led project rather than something that enjoys strong strategic or economic justification. The second fundamental problem is the chaotic ownership and management structures that will almost certainly lead to the squandering of investment capital.
Again our journey started in Sheffield and we took an early morning East Midlands train to London, St Pancras to board the Eurostar to Brussels and then take the Thalys train to Amsterdam, where we boarded the ‘Lord Byron‘.
Our journeys on the trains from Sheffield to Brussels provided a good start to our 5 day holiday, unfortunately our experience on the Thalys train could have had a reverse effect. When we boarded the train in Brussels we together with a number of our fellow travellers found that all the available luggage racks were full. As this trains stop over in Brussels was only for a few minutes we had to quickly decide where to place our luggage, the only options available being to block the aisle or the opposite exit door. The train attendent was extremely unhelpful and appeared to be more concerned about keeping to the train time schedule, than be of assistance to us. As he was no help, we had no option but to decide to place the luggage blocking the opposite exit door, as the best option. Then for the next few stops until Amsterdam, move the luggage from one exit door to the other, depending on which side the platform was.
This could have easily have created a bad experience and impression of our holiday, but after all it was outside the responsibility of the tour company. This was more than compensated for when we viewed and boarded the ‘Lord Byron’ at Amsterdam. We were greated by the crew, who made us feel extemely welcomed by their friendly manner. Throughout the cruise the crew continued to make our stay extremely enjoyable, they were ever attentive and could not do enough for you.
The accommodation and all the other facilities on board were first class and the food superb. During the early hours of the next morning we slipped our moorings at Amsterdam and set sail for our first port of call, being Hoorn. During breakfast we docked at Hoorn and then the rest of the morning was available to view the sights of Hoorn and then return to the Lord Byron for lunch.
Hoorn is a very picturist Dutch small town, which has not been overly altered for tourists, it retaining most of the old Dutch charm.
During lunch we should have been setting sail to Enkhuizen, but due to the weather, strong winds causing it unsafe to sail, we remained moored at Hoorn for the rest of the day. So that we could still visit Enkhuizen coaches were arranged and we were still, therefore able to spend the afternoon in Enkhuizen and then return to Hoorn for dinner aboard the Lord Byron.
Again Enkhuizen is a picturist Dutch town, retaining many of the features of Dutch architecture.
Over night we should have sailed to Volendam, but again due to the same weather condition we had to remain at Hoorn. So again after breakfast coaches were arranged to transport us to Volendam so we could still see the sights of Volendam and then return to the Lord Byron for lunch.
Volendam is another Dutch town, where behind the promenade frontage you find many Dutch artchitecture. Unfortunately, for my taste the promenade frontage had under gone some alteration for a tourist feel.
After lunch we went back to the coaches to take us to Keukenhof gardens, which should have taken us through the bulb fields showing the tulips in full bloom. Unfortunately due to the weather conditions over the last few months this had restricted the growth of the tulips and only a few areas were showing any tulips in bloom. This was not the situation at Keukenhof gardens where we were able to walk through the various gardens and other attractions and see the splendour of all the floral displays.
After viewing the sights of Keukenhof gardens we returned to the Lord Byron for dinner.
While each of the Dutch towns of Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Volendam were, in their own way, worth a visit, I did feel that if you had difficulty walking or it caused you some discomfort, the amount of walking to view these towns could easily cause you to become tired. No organised walking tours were offered and you were free to explore, with the aid of a map, at your own leisurely pace.
Normally you would not have a return time in the case of Enkhuizen and Volendam as you would be returning directly to the Lord Byron. Unfortunately, in our case, due to the limitations for sailing caused by the weather, we had to return to coaches to bring us back to the Lord Byron.
While at Volendam some other tour operators did conduct their own walking tour, however, this means your pace is that of the guide and not your own.
While the Keukenhof gardens are well worth a visit and to view all the areas sufficiently would require more time than we had during the afternoon, you will experience a considerable amount of walking. That been said, there are many rest and refreshment areas in which you can rest and regain your energy. A guided walk of the gardens was available, should you wish to use the facility, but again the pace is that of the guide. We did take up the offer, but soon lost the guide as the pace was too much for ourselves and we continued to wander through the gardens at our own pace and using the map as a reference.
The next day we were due back at Amsterdam and as the weather had improved we set sail for Amsterdam during breakfast and docked there a few hours later.
After docking, canal cruisers had been moored near by to enable for the canal cruise to commence. After the cruise arround some of the canals of Amsterdam we were returned to the Lord Byron for lunch.
After lunch, for those who wished to, you could venture into Amsterdam and view the sights at your leisure before returning to the Lord Byron for dinner
It is my view, but I would have wished for an organised, may be optional extra, open top bus tour through Amsterdam. While this was available to book as an individual, if the booking had been through the tour operator we may have been able to hire the bus for the tour party and, if so, the commentary would have been featured in, solely, English. But this in no way detracts from viewing the sights of Amsterdam, which are well worth seeing.
Unfortunately the next day, after breakfast we had to depart the Lord Byron to start our journey back to the UK. Again this meant catching the Thayls train from Amsterdam to Brussels. Again there was insufficient luggage space and therefore the luggage was placed in front of the opposite exit door. However, on this occasion the train attendant was more understanding of the situation and appeared to accept we had no alternative. Then on to the Eurostar back to London St Pancras and then for ourselves the East Midlands train back to Sheffield.
All in all a very good relaxing holiday from which there were many sights to see and every opportunity to relax when you wished to. I would recommend this tour to others, but you will have to take into consideration that some walking will be required, all be it most at your own pace.
A few weeks ago my wife and myself took a 4 day break to Brugge in Belgium and to explain and comment on our very enjoyable 4 day holiday I have prepared the following article Our Holiday in Brugge.
This was a very welcome break for us and I hope it is the start of many more.