Eurostar set a new Paris to London rail speed record of just over two hours on Tuesday with the first train to use Britain's long-awaited high speed track at around 320 kilometers (about 199 miles) per hour.

The service carrying journalists and officials from Paris made its inaugural run down 68 miles of British track known as High Speed 1 and arrived for the first time at St Pancras International rather than the usual Waterloo terminus.

Shaving minutes off the journey is vital to Eurostar as it competes with airlines for passengers across the channel. The journey time was 2 hours, 3 minutes and 39 seconds, compared with the usual 2 hours 35 minutes to Waterloo.

I don't think that'll be beaten, as we had the line to ourselves, train driver Neil Meare, 52, told reporters on arrival.

The normal journey time from Paris to St Pancras will be 2 hours 15 minutes.

The official switch to St Pancras takes place on November 14, and the station will eventually link with the site of the 2012 Olympics at Stratford in east London.

Eurostar stripped out food trolleys and ran the train half empty to save weight on its record attempt.

The top speed in the UK was around 320 kilometers per hour coming over the Medway river, and it was a bit faster in France, said Meare.


Eurostar carried its first passengers in 1994 after the delayed opening of the $15 billion Channel Tunnel.

But while trains have cruised across France on high speed track at up to 186 mph, they have been forced to throttle back on the British side where they mingle with commuter services heading in and out of London.

Meare said the sluggish UK system had been an embarrassment for British drivers in the past.

The High Speed 1 timetable will for the first time enable UK business travelers to reach the centers of Paris and Brussels before 9 a.m., ready for a full day's work, Eurostar Chief Executive Richard Brown said at a reception in Paris late on Monday.

Paris will be 20 minutes better and Brussels will be about half an hour better, he told Reuters later. Eurostar is considering WiFi internet access next year as a further attraction for business travelers.

Eurostar Chairman Gillaume Pepy joked French travelers would be happy to see the last of London's Waterloo Station, named after a famous British victory over French forces in 1815.

At last, we'll be able to forget Waterloo, he said.

Eurostar's faster service arrives at a time of booming demand for rail travel in Britain after a series of foiled terrorist attacks have led to tighter security and delays at UK airports.

Eurostar also says it has been helped by people switching from plane to train due to concerns about the environment.

Environmental statistics put the CO2 impact of aviation anywhere between four and 10 times that of rail on short-haul journeys.

Eurostar will offset CO2 emissions that it cannot eliminate ... making it the first train company in the world to offer carbon neutral journeys, said Brown.

Eurostar services are handled by France's SNCF railway and Belgium's SNCB on their own territory.

On the British side this is done by the ICRR consortium, comprising National Express Plc, SNCF, SNCB and British Airways Plc.