There is a Eurostar station at Stratford but it is not open yet, I knew. The Eurostar train does not stop there yet, so surely nothing else does. It took an incidental mention of Stratford station by rozallin this weekend to send me off to read otherwise. Eurostar will start running to Stratford once the new DLR extension to Stratford International is complete, hopefully sometime in 2010. In the meanwhile, a bus service connects it to Stratford. It's in the middle of the Olympics construction zone, so walking isn't recommended.
Why would there be a bus if there's no train service? It sunk in slowly. Hours later, I suddenly realized that South-east high speed trains stop at Stratford.
Stratford is useful stop for me. I pass through it anyways to get to zone 1, so stopping there saves me the premium and crowds of high peak central London transit. That premium alone makes up much of the difference between the respective costs of the tickets for me. The journey also takes half the time of the usual service. For a couple of quid, that might well be worth it. The high speed schedule opens up all sorts of options for me: staying later, until after 10 pm, in Canterbury and still making it home before transit stops. Arriving an hour earlier in the morning. Arriving by 8 am if I wish! Sleeping in an extra half-hour or an hour. Making it home for a much more reasonable dinner-time after a full day away.
The newness of the station was apparent before I even approached it. The website promised self-service ticket machines. Stratford Domestic staff were dubious about my ticket-buying certainty, but told me where to go even though they thought I wouldn't be able to buy a ticket when I got there.
The bus to the high speed station is minorly ridiculous. If you go to Stratford Domestic, don't leave the station. Don't go out of the barriers. That's not where your bus is. It's all the way down on platform 11, at the very, very end of the platform. The platform is long enough that the staff can see you coming several minutes in advance; that's why they held the bus for me. The website says buses every 7 minutes. The posters at the station say buses every 15 minutes. I don't know, but I caught one in plenty of time for my train. Of course, I'd left plenty of time to get to know the route and the system.
Stratford International is a bare, modern, but not unfriendly space. The website promised me ticket machines, an information point, and no shops. The ticket machines are tucked away in a niche by an apparent real-live ticket seller, the person at the information point did not appear to have heard of ticket machines, and there's now an AMT coffee booth available for drinks and nibbles. The coffee booth was not yet open at 6:30 in the morning however. By twenty till, a man was setting out tables, so it's likely open by 7.
The station is still new enough to use that staff were enterprisingly informative. One came up to let me know that there was a warm waiting room (manned) down below on the platform. There were staff wandering about regularly, at least a dozen of them I would estimate, inconsequential in the expansive space.
The escalator down to the tracks is four very long, straight stories down. It's an unexpected and mildly astonishingly long escalator at first site, down through the bare concrete walls which typify this family of Eurostar station - I speak from experience only of Ebbsfleet in making this generalization. The platforms are wide and well-lit. The waiting room really was a fair way back behind the escalators, but the train stops even further beyond it.
Gender disaparities struck me. The employees were roughtly 50-50, male-female; good. All the arriving construction workers were male - not too surprising. The dozen people fresh from the fast train from St. Pancras were all male. Only one other person waiting for my train - out of perhaps a dozen again - was female. I suspect it's a correlation between high-paying jobs which justify taking the fast train and gender; unless there's a correlation with impatience?
The seats are blue and fairly upright. Indeed, if anything, they are less comfortable than the usual commuter trains. They do not have the plushness of Eurostar; these are made for shorter, briefer commutes. There's a small luggage rack further down the carriage. No internet access is detectable. Strikingly, the windows are gloriously clean because they are so new. I always notice their dirtiness on my regular commute; it interferes with my picture-taking attempts from the train. Today, that may not matter. At this rate, I will be in Canterbury before sunrise, so there will be no photos to take.
I have now been on the train for 9 minutes (I didn't write *all* of the above in that time) and we are already outside the M25, arriving at Ebbsfleet. Change for trains to Brussels and Paris. The wonder of speed!
For a few extra pounds and an hour less, I may very well be taking this new, speedy, clean-windowed commute in the coming weeks instead of my old one.