Eurostar will officially switch from Waterloo terminal to St Pancras on November 14 [AFP]

The Eurostar train service has set a new rail speed record from Paris to London at more than 299km per hour (kph) in just over two hours.

The train on Tuesday was the first to use Britain's long-awaited high-speed track.

Carrying journalists and officials from Paris, it made its inaugural run down 109km of British track known as High Speed 1 and arrived for the first time at St Pancras international station rather than the standard Waterloo terminal.

The journey time was 2 hours, 3 minutes and 39 seconds, compared with the usual 2 hours 35 minutes.

The official switch to St Pancras takes place on November 14, and the station will eventually link with the site of the 2012 Olympics at Stratford in east London.

Eurostar stripped out food trolleys and ran the train half full to save weight on its record attempt.

Within 20 minutes of leaving, the train had clocked 309kph, according to the GPS navigating device of one journalist on board.

Cross-Channel

Eurostar carried its first passengers in 1994 after the delayed opening of the $15bn Channel Tunnel.

But while trains have cruised across France on high-speed track at up to 299kph, they have been forced to slow down on the British side where they mix with commuter services heading in and out of London.

Eurostar will offset CO2 emissions that it cannot eliminate ... making it the first train company in the world to offer carbon neutral journeys

Richard Brown, chief executive of Eurostar, speaking at a reception in Paris late on Monday, said: "The High Speed 1 timetable will for the first time enable UK business travellers to reach the centres of Paris and Brussels before 9 am, ready for a full day's work.
 
"Leisure passengers will benefit from later evening departures, allowing them to stay later on their visits."

Eurostar's faster service comes at a time when demand for rail travel in Britain is booming. After a series of potential attacks, tighter security and delays have increased at UK airports.

Eurostar also says it has been helped by people switching from aircraft to train due to concerns about the environment.

Environmental statistics put the carbon dioxide (CO2) impact of aviation anywhere between four and 10 times that of rail on short-haul journeys.

"Eurostar will offset CO2 emissions that it cannot eliminate ... making it the first train company in the world to offer carbon neutral journeys," Brown said.

Eurostar services are handled by France's SNCF railway and Belgium's SNCB on their own territory.

On the British side this is done by the InterCapital and Regional Rail, a consortium of National Express group, SNCF, SNCB and British Airways.