16 things you didn't know about driving a Eurostar train (the salary is £65,000 but you can't go to the loo)
Up at 4am, off to Paris, and back in London for lunch. The average day of a Eurostar train driver may start early but it often finishes in time for an afternoon spent frolicking in either the French or English capital. “I love to head to the Jardin du Luxembourg when I can,” says Helen Maclean, 30 years old and one of only two female drivers on the cross-Channel operator’s staff. You might spot some Eurostar drivers taking a break at the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris Credit: GETTY Splitting your time between two of the world’s most revered cities is just one perk of a job that Maclean insists is one of the best in the business. Read on for the more curious elements of working on one of Europe’s most prestigious train lines. 1. There’s plenty of time for silent reflection – and singing Unlike planes, which have both pilot and co-pilot, Eurostar train drivers spend the journey alone. There are two train managers - one of whom must be able to operate the train in an emergency - but other than that it’s two-and-a-half hours of solitude. “I sing to myself a lot - lots of Beyonce - but generally speaking, you need to be able to enjoy your own company,” says Maclean. “You do get plenty of time to think, but it means that when I get home from work I just want to talk to everyone.” How the Eurostar gets from London to Paris 2. But no bathroom breaks Being the sole operator of a train hurtling through the Kent countryside means toilet breaks are a no-no. A spokesperson for Eurostar said drivers are encouraged to use the toilet before starting work. 3. It’s not a job for the boys “In the olden days when coupling a train was done manually, it was more of a male profession – but now, when it is done at the push of a button, there’s no reason why women can’t do it,” says Maclean. “There are more and more women getting into driving trains and why shouldn’t we? We’re just as good as the boys are and why shouldn’t we have the security and the salary. There’s no discrimination between male and female salaries.” 4. Speaking of salaries… Eurostar would not give an exact figure but pay is understood to be around £65,000 for drivers. 5. Drivers have to keep their wits about them “There’s no auto-pilot like in a plane,” says Maclean. “So you’re looking out for signals the whole way. As long as you’re on green signals you can relax a little but if there is anything other than a green [amber or red] then you have to pay attention.” Eurostar staff at St Pancras Credit: Getty 6. The road signs are just a blur The majority of the time the train is travelling so fast that physical signage outside lining the tracks is useless, which is why the signals appear on an electronic monitor in the cab. Only on the final approach to Paris - and London - do old-fashioned signs come back into play. 7. Things move quicker in France England and France do not share the same speed restrictions. What’s more, the Eurostar route is the only one in the UK to use kph not mph. “We pull out of St Pancras at 40kph (25mph) before rising to 230kph (143mph), then it’s 160kph (99mph) through the tunnel, and 300kph (186mph) once out the other side in France,” says Maclean. At a glance | Eurostar journey times 8. There aren't many sights - unless a slag heap floats your boat Being hunkered down in the driver’s cab whistling through the English or French countryside does not provide too many opportunities for sightseeing. “You see a lot of fields,” says Maclean. “You can see quite far as the high-speed lines are so clear and quite straight, but as far as sights, there is not a huge amount. The slag heaps outside of Lille are a good landmark and sometimes you can make out the Sacre Coeur as you approach Paris.” The Unesco-protected slag heaps of northern France 9. French signalmen refuse to speak English Which is why all Eurostar train drivers are required to be bilingual to a point. All candidates must take a nine-month course, which includes going to live with a French family, before they even get near a train. “If the signalman phones you need to be able to speak French,” Maclean says, “I can’t see them ever not speaking French.” 10. But Eurostar has more French drivers than English There are 62 English and 102 French – but they’re all friends. 11. St Pancras or Gare du Nord? “St Pancras, definitely,” says Maclean. “You’re going to struggle to find another station as nice as St Pancras. Gare du Nord needs a bit of love but they are working on it.” St Pancras, London, from where the Eurostar leaves Credit: Getty 12. If a train feels like it’s gliding, that’s because it is “Eurostar is big on being eco-friendly so we’re encouraged to glide the train where possible,” says Maclean, on the rail equivalent of coasting a car with the clutch down. “There are portions of the track where, if you are going downhill, you can just let the train roll and reduce the electricity you are taking from the tracks. If you are running a little behind schedule you would put the power on, but otherwise we can coast.” 13. The Channel Tunnel only lasts 20 minutes The train is only in the tunnel for 20 minutes and most passengers don’t notice, says Maclean. “The lighting in the train stays the same,” she says. “For us the tunnel is probably the most boring bit of the journey.” 50 rail trips to take in 2017 14. It’s not the only ‘boaring’ bit of the journey Yes, the trains hit wild boars. Not so much anymore, with the introduction of new fencing in northern France, but previously hurtling into a wild boar was a bit of a problem. “You’d have to stop and inspect the train,” says Maclean. 15. Drivers must keep the manual with them at all times They used to have to lug round physical copies of the rulebook but now it’s all on iPads. There are five sets of rule books to become an international driver, with Belgium having a different manual to France, so only the more experienced drivers operate the service to Brussels. 16. You must have a clean licence to apply Drivers must be fully qualified, with three years’ experience - by training on another line (Maclean cut her teeth on the Gatwick Express) - and a clean train driving licence to apply.