Northside - Andrew Martin dreams of a Glasgow-Paris train track

It doesn't take much to prompt fantasies of tousled nights en route to Paris, writes Andrew Martin

In September the first stage of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link will finally open, allowing Eurostars to storm through Kent as fast as they have through France for nine years: up to 186mph. Even though the last leg of the route will still be over what are described as "classic" (meaning slow) rails into Waterloo, this is a reason for celebration. But more so in the south of England than the north, perhaps, because Eurostar is a Home Counties phenomenon, as was the luxurious Golden Arrow, which ran from Victoria between 1929 and 1972, and which cockneys set their watches by and revered. This, despite the French flag mounted on its front and its Pullman carriages full of rich people eating kedgeree from plates edged with gold.

The Golden Arrow stopped at Dover, decanting its passengers on to a ferry. (They then, with pleasing symmetry, continued to Paris on a train called the Fleche d'or.) The carriages of the Night Ferry, however, which provided London-Paris and Paris-London services every evening from 1936 to 1980, were actually put on to the boats at Dover, and this train was even more loved by southerners. In the mornings commuters at Victoria would queue up to look through its newly arrived windows. The passengers had already quit the carriages but the exotic, erotic, tousled, red SNCF blankets could fuel a day's fantasies. When the last Night Ferry left Victoria on 31 October 1980, the dot-matrix indicator read: "Au revoir, mon ami".

The attitude to these trains may have been different had they travelled through the north. I once went on a rail excursion through Yorkshire and Scotland, on a train that included the art

deco Trianon Bar car, which had been used on the Golden Arrow.

I happened to be standing in this, with a glass of kir royal in my hand, as we drew into York station, and the looks and gestures I got from a gang of lads standing on the platform . . . well, even now, I choose not to think too closely about those few minutes.

If there is a hint of bitterness creeping into this week's column it is easily explained. When Eurostar began operating, the plan was to embrace the north - to run a sleeper down from Glasgow, cutting through London at West Kensington, and continuing to the tunnel and Paris. You would go to sleep in Glasgow and wake in Paris - a lovely idea, although the other way about is pretty horrible to contemplate.

The scheme was put paid to by some killjoy pointing out that this journey would have taken about nine hours, whereas you could get to Paris from Glasgow in two by air. The only remnants of the plan are the few spare Eurostars that would have made those journeys and now operate under the colours of GNER on their relatively humble Scotland to London runs. It lives still, though, in the dreams of northern trainspotters.

This article first appeared in the 14 April 2003 issue of the New Statesman, A crime against humanity