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Eurostar's first direct service to Marseille leaves London St. Pancras station

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Eurostar's first direct service to Marseille leaves London St. Pancras station

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The first Eurostar train of the company’s new direct route to the south of France, which will run all the year round left St. Pancras station in the heart of London on Friday morning.

First stop – Lyon in just four-and-a-half hours, Avignon and its famous annual theatre festival is now less than six hours away. Within six and a half hours passengers will be stepping off into the Mediterranean sunshine in Marseille.

New rolling stock built by Germany’s Siemens will come into service at the end of the year on the permanent cross-Channel high speed rail and extends the company’s list of international destinations. There are plans to open a direct link to Amsterdam in 2017.

Eurostar carried a record number of passengers in 2014 to Paris but bookings fell in the early part of this year.

It’s expected the new link will boost tourism in the south of France while it could also prove to be a critical strategic move for Eurostar.

It faces a period of change in the next few years. In March the British government announced it was selling its 40 percent stake in the company while next year marks the end of Eurostar’s monopoly on the use of the Channel tunnel.