When you miss the last Eurostar train home!
So what happens if you miss the last Eurostar train back home to London? Well recently after returning from Rotterdam we did just that, although through no fault of our own! To maximise our time in the city we’d decided to take the 17:58 home, changing in Brussels, before the final leg back to London St Pancras on the 19:52. Well that was the plan until our Thalys connecting train from Rotterdam to Brussels was delayed enroute.
If you’re similarly stuck, before reading the rest of the post, you essentially want to:
- Get in the queue of the train provider for a hotel ASAP
- Get in the queue at the Eurostar helpdesk for the choice of a train home the next day ASAP too
Good new on Twitter – the last Eurostar was waiting for us!
But never fear – Twitter to the rescue – as the Eurostar Twitter team kept us up-to-date. To the great relief of all onboard they tweeted out this initial message below. Many people were less optimistically still Googling ‘Money Saving Expert’ just in case. However as Eurostar had already informed us that the last Eurostar home would be waiting in Brussels I felt Martin Lewis’ help wasn’t needed this time round.
Bad news on Twitter – the last Eurostar was actually not waiting for us!
That was until the Thalys train attendent announced that “The 19:52 Eurostar to St Pancras has now left!” Err – what? Come again! Keenly awaiting Eurostar’s follow-up Tweet it quickly came through a few minutes later “Sorry – we actually had to go after all!”
Maybe if they’d simply said “We can wait, but only up to 30 minutes” that might have set our expectations a little better. Oh well! So what lay in store at our now end destination of Brussels? The train announcer informed us a repesentative would be trackside in Brussels to advice us what to do next. Many passengers onboard were already discussing morning meetings in London they simply couldn’t miss. Others (myself not included of course) were slying mouthing “Yes – I don’t have to go to work tomorrow!” I had my work laptop with me so knew I could pretty much work wherever, whatever the outcome.
End station Brussels-midi. Now what?
So alighting the train we looked for the non-existent Eurostar reprentative and instead headed down the escalator to the Thalys ticket office where two members of staff were already being swamped. They looked totally resigned to answering exasperated customers’ questions for the next few hours. The three of us were fortunate to be perhaps 1/5 up the queue. Unexpectedly a third Thalys member of staff appeared, walking along the queue asking how many rooms we might need. Although the three of us had been sharing an Airbnb in Rotterdam we asked for 3 single rooms, this no doubt costing Thalys more accommodation costs and eating into the finite number of hotel rooms on offer. It transpired that this room counting was just to give Thalys an idea of the scale of the problem and how many rooms were needed.
At this point no names had been taken so when we did finally get to the front of the queue we were once again only confirming how many rooms we required. There was then a bit of “cat and mouse” as the staff tried to group us together into 1 or 2 rooms. We feigned not knowing each other and said that one room each was the only offer we’d accept. Luckily a French lady in the queue sensed our ruse and spoke in French on our behalf to a), confirm we didn’t know each other and b), that we wanted some lunch vouchers for the following day. The ones we’d been offered were only for evening snacks from a shop that had already closed!
What about some train tickets home?
Word got around that rather than waiting in a huddle for the hotel vouchers to be handed out it was prudent to head to the the Eurostar queue to actually get a ticket home the next day. So two of us headed there leaving the third member of our group looking after our suitcases. The queue in the Eurostar office didn’t move much quicker but was certainly shorter than the Thalys hotel queue. Maybe not everybody realised what they had to do yet.
After 30 minutes (it felt like longer) we spoke to the most chilled out Frenchman I’d ever met. We showed him our 1x paper ticket and 2x online tickets and he checked his system for space on trains the next day. Initially we were offered the 07:42 but that felt a bit early. We asked whether there were any other options to which he replied, with a shrug of the shoulders, glasses perched on the end of his nose “There are many trains back to London. You can choose whichever one you like“. His incredibly relaxed tone seemed at odds with the noticeable tension in the room. I assume he’d been in this situation many times before. Not wanting to be too keen getting home, and considering the chance of eating a waffle the next day we chose the 14:52 train departure. We called Louise to see if that time was ok but as she didn’t pick up we just went with it.
Now for the hotel … and some dinner!
So with new paper train tickets in hand we went back to the Thalys queue. Perhaps fifteen minutes later we were given our reservations for the Ibis hotel just 2 minutes walk away! Success! We’d got the requested three single rooms plus a €7 voucher each for lunch the next day. At this point time was marching on. Our 1h delayed train and double queueing meant the time was now 22:45. Time for some dinner.
The hotel bar looked busier than usual with the vast majority of the new patrons looking very much liked they’d just stepped off of a train – presumably our train. We dumped the bags in our new rooms, headed back down to the bar and were fortunate enough to grab the one remaining table. We quickly ordered, sensing both the time and the increasing prospect of the kitchen running out of food. I sunk a pint of Jupiler and then ordered a Belgium classic dish of carbonade flamande. The barman was completely overrun but surprisingly the food arrived nice and quickly and was delicious.
So some tips for next time:
- Maybe don’t book the very last Eurostar train home if you’re connecting from another city using a different train firm. “If” we’d booked the penultimate train we might have been able to board the last train home.
- Get off the train and to the front of the ticket office queue as quick as you can. Even if there are enough rooms for everyone at least you’ll get your dinner quicker.
- Remember to get a train home too with someone getting in the separate Eurostar queue (with the tickets whether they be paper or online ones).
- Always ask if there are other train times available rather than just accepting the first one they offer you
- Keep hold of all your tickets so it makes the compensation side of things easier when you return home. This will be the last thing on your mind at the time.
Finally may I add, the Thalys and Eurostar members of staff did a grand job in a tricky situation so very well done to them 🙂 And as for any compensation? I got a £69 evoucher for a future Eurostar trip, but had to make the effort to ask for it! So all in all it could have been a lot worse and missing the last Eurostar home prolonged our little travel blogging adventure!
If you like trains and you want to visit one that’s slightly different check out the ‘Mail Rail‘ postal train that you can ride deep below London in Clerkenwell.