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Eurostar debuts London to Marseille high-speed rail service

Eurostar trains at London's Saint Pancras International station. The high-speed trains will bring passengers from London to Lyon, Avignon and Marseille. Simon Blackley

Eurostar’s new link between London and Marseille launched Friday with trains reaching the Mediterranean city in just over six hours. Passengers departing Saint Pancras International station in London can also reach Lyon in four-and-a-half hours and Avignon in less than six hours on the permanent, cross-Channel high-speed rail.

But the journey to Britain will take an hour longer and require a change of train due to UK border checks, as Lyon is not equipped for immigration and customs controls. Passengers will have to connect in the northern city of Lille.

Tickets for travel went on sale in December with fares starting from 111 euros, and new trains built by Germany’s Siemens will be put into operation at the end of the year.

The year-round service is expected to boost tourism in the south of France. Avignon already attracts tens of thousands of tourists for its world-renowned annual theatre festival.

“Brits have a long-standing love affair with the south of France, and our new service brings the gastronomy, culture and art from the region closer to the UK,” Eurostar commercial director Nick Mercer said in a statement when the new rail link was announced last year.

While Eurostar carried a record number of passengers in 2014, bookings from London to Paris fell in early 2015, apparently because of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in January.