Articles by Lesley Brown

Based in Paris, Lesley Brown is a journalist specialised in (and passionate about) rail, urban transport, and new mobility services. She writes for major companies about their latest products and innovations.

  • March 26 2017

    Writing Transport

    Bearing in mind ‘April is the cruellest’ month, I’m glad my March has been the kindest so far this 2017.

    It kicked off with a whistle-stop press trip to the US, courtesy of Siemens Mobility (more of which in detail at a later date).

    Over three days, our group of journalists discovered the constructor’s rail business stateside – from rolling stock to services.

    The Sacramento plant was impressive; Chris Maynard gave the best presentation ever (“I want to avoid death by Powerpoint,” he reassured us upfront); the team at SFMTA so patient as we took photo after photo after photo of everything tram at their depot in San Francisco.

    Highlights outside of the work programme were getting to ride San Fran’s historic, open platform tram, seeing crazy M&M’s flavours, and talking about Dashiell Hammett in a top floor bar, all gilded gold, late into the night.

    Back to earth to a Paris with spring in the air, missing the Orly incident by a day and by landing at Charles de Gaulle airport on the other side of the city.

    Onward and upward

    Next up: interviewing two inspiring gentlemen on matters of transport; one French, one American, both charming. The pleasure was all mine as I steered the questions (and to a certain degree the answers) in MY direction.

    “A designer has to have a new idea every three minutes,” Frédéric Simon from NIMOS Design told me.

    A journalist too. But juggling many different topics, even when all under the umbrella of transport in my case, is a challenge.

    ‘Curiouser and curiouser’

    Next stop was the SIFER rail fair in Lille, north of France. Here I met some interesting suppliers with stories to sell about their products and systems.

    Curiosity is definitely the name of the journalist’s game – ask a question and therein usually lies a tale.

    This was the case at the Rosehill Rail stand, with its Anti-Trespass panels (approved by Network Rail) made from recycled tyres moulded into what looks like a form of medieval torture rack.

    ILME explained its new coupler, innovative because capable of withstanding 3,000 hours of saline exposure compared to the standard 500.SNCF Réseau was presenting Altametris, its new subsidiary dedicated to drones/UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).

    And so flows writing transport…

  • fEBRUARY 04 2017

    Eurostar Business Premier – consume in moderation

    Paris, February 3: Eurostar invited journalists and other guests to discover its new Business Premier Lounge at Paris Gare du Nord.

    Spread across a lavish mezzanine (formerly housing French Railways/SNCF offices) overlooking the interior of the C19th station on one side, rue de Dunkerque on the other, this VIP (very important passenger) hideaway features high plastered ceilings, marble fireplaces, cosy nooks, artworks, and to-die-for cocktail station.

    Chef Raymond Blanc is very much on board too.

    “It combines the best of Paris with touches of London,” said Nicolas Petrovic, managing director, Eurostar.

    (Above) Nicolas Petrovic (left), managing director, Eurostar, with Patrick Laval, journalist, La Vie du Rail

    Designed by the London-based architectural studio Softroom, highlights include elegant blue-grey Bleu de Savoie marble and an overhead lighting fixture suggesting (to some) the points and switches of rail tracks.

    Overall, the feel of the space is Parisian apartment chic meets British cosy quirk – sofas, rugs, cushions, soft lighting, copious mags and papers (albeit sleek and meticulously ordered, French formal garden style, rather than lying around crumpled à la British).

    With available seating in all shapes and forms for 160 guests, Softroom founders and directors Christopher Bagot and Oliver Salway talked about “generosity of space that is quite tightly organised.”

    The catering, overseen by Mr Blanc in his Business Premier culinary director’s toque, is, as one would expect, world’s apart your typical station fare (depressed jambon-beurre baguettes and desperate coffee).

    “Top quality nuts and crisps, and much more besides,” said Mr Petrovic. “The choice of food ranges from very healthy to a lot less healthy.”

    Light bites in verrines or more substantial plated delicacies, saucisson, cheeses, enticing fruit and vegetable juices, ‘grown in England’ tea by producer Tregothnan, and four coffee machines to ensure nobody is ever kept waiting.

    Upstairs downstairs?

    The circular cocktail station, in gleaming black and gold with velvet stools, is a real eye-catcher. Sunken below floor level, it certainly gives drinkers the upper hand as they scrutinise every move of the staff below concocting their tipples. However the aim, it seems, was more to avoid the bar dominating the lounge and ensure an unbroken vista of the space as a whole.

    Move over Tom Cruise, mixologist Florent, 27 (above) is on top of his game. He’ll shake you up a Lady Marmalade, but Sex on the Beach is a big no no.

    The menu, lovingly crafted by the London Cocktail Club and Mr Blanc, not only features ingredients such as the humble marmalade, but also the chef’s beloved angelica, Eurostar’s signature Toujours 21 gin, coffee, and even Tregothnan tea.

    Operation seduction led by JJ Goodman, ebullient CEO of the London Cocktail Club & an enthusiastic Raymond Blanc

    Obviously feeling a need to justify the presence of alcohol in a railway setting, Mr Petrovic described the bar as a great way for business people to network, a place for productive time. “Whether a good or bad day, it’s nice to relax over drinks – of course when consumed in moderation!” he hastened to add.

    One of the guests, a banker (sipping an alcohol-free beverage) told Passion4Transport she would definitely be back at the bar on her next trip.

    (Above) The uniquely chic Gilly Smith, podcast producer for ‘Delicious’ & husband Jed Novick

    Making its (m)art

    Today art is often used by businesses as an extension of their corporate image. It may serve to render spaces more aesthetically pleasing, to stimulate the workforce, and/or to impress visitors. For its new lounge, Eurostar has commissioned The Hospital Club to curate contemporary artworks, all for sale, on its generous stretches of wall.

    Enter another dimension

    Flanked by dynamic, bird’s eye views – Paris street and station panorama – the up-in-the-air lounge exists in its very own time and space dimension. The only downside – it takes longer to reach the Eurostar trains than from the previous VIP retreat, located flush above the platform. “But it shouldn’t take more than a three-minute walk and we’re confident the enhanced ‘experience’ is well worth it,” said Philippe Mouly, COO, Eurostar..

    Very Important Passenger – Very Important Segment

    Business travel is big business for Eurostar, representing “a very important segment for us, with Paris, Brussels and London as the key pivot points,” said Mr Petrovic.

    Given the stakes a play – the niggling presence and popularity of low-cost flights, plus the impending arrival of a rail rival in the form of the German Deutsche Bahn (which obtained the right to run passenger services through the Channel Tunnel from the British and French authorities in 2013, but has yet to launch) – improving the business experience and perceived value for money is an absolute must if Eurostar is to stay the pace.

    Indeed the Business Premier lounge forms part of Eurostar’s ongoing investment in its stations and services.

    A new fleet of longer and higher capacity trains, the e320 by Siemens, cost the company an impressive €600 million. Check-in facilities at Gare du Nord are visibly expanding to cope with more passengers and ensure the smoothest possible flow.

    Following on from the new London-Avignon/Marseille offer, introduced in May 2015, this year will see the opening of a direct route between London-Rotterdam-Amsterdam.

    Eurostar system: home-from-home for the elite traveller, this lap of luxury retreat is not beyond the wildest dreams of those of us mere mortals!

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