Thursday, October 07, 2010

Eurostar taps Siemens, angers French

Written by 

Eurostar International Ltd., the high speed passenger train operator between Britain and mainland Europe through the Channel Tunnel, plans to make a $1.1 billion capital investment in its equipment fleet: $840 million worth of new "e320" trainsets, and $170 million worth of overhauls and upgrades to its existing fleet.

Eurostar says it will fund the investment privately with a combination of cash and bank financing. Financial terms were not disclosed.

eurostare320.jpgEurostar’s plans include tapping the Siemens Velaro design for 10 new e320 high speed trainsets (top), subject to negotiation of final terms. Eurostar chose Siemens as the preferred bidder over Alstom's AGV in June, reportedly surprising and angering the French government.

French Environmental Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and Transport Minister Doninique Bussereau, in a joint statement, declared amazement over Eurostar’s choice, calling on the operator to change the terms of its contract tender to conform with current security rules. Failing that, according to The Financial Times of London, the French government would attempt to block the use of distributed-power trains inside the Channel Tunnel, precluding the use of many high speed train types, such as the Velaro. 

No evidence was offered by Borloo and Bussereau explaining how the Velaro design would impinge on Channel Tunnel safety. SNCF (French National Railways) owns 55% of Eurostar, and all French high speed trains to date have been built by Alstom. 

The e320 will be 400 meters (1,320feet) long to satisfy Channel Tunnel safety regulations, which stipulate a minimum train length of 375 meters (1,238 feet). The e320 will be able operateacross the entire European high speed rail network and provide direct services between London and a range of city centers throughout Europe. With capacity tocarry more than 900 passengers and their luggage, the e320 will have 20% more seats than the existing Eurostar trains, which carry 750. Capable of 320 kph (200 mph), the e320 is expected to reduce travel times between London and Paris to about two hours (it’s currently two hours, 15 minutes), London to Amsterdam to under four hours, and London to Geneva to about five hours.

eurostar-train.jpgEurostar’s existing 28 high speed trainsets (bottom), supplied by Alstom, will be overhauled and upgraded with new interiors and an externallivery designed by Pininfarina, the Italian industrial design house best known for designing Ferraris, Maseratis, Rolls Royces, Jaguars, Lancias, Alfa Romeos, and other fine automobiles. The current Eurostar was placed into service in 1994 and operates at speeds of up to 300 kph (186 mph).

Pininfarina is also responsible for the interior and external livery on the e320. The Pininfarina interior designs “draw on extensive passenger feedback and include a number of innovative features that will create an exceptional travel experience for customers,” said Eurostar. “In addition to offering a contemporary, stylish environment in which passengerscan work or relax, the new Eurostar fleet will be equipped with the mostadvanced wi-fi and on-board ‘infotainment’ on any train in Europe. This will include real-time travel and destination information as well as interactive entertainment including video-on-demand, music, and newsfeeds.”