By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Energy
France, Britain and Germany are at odds with each other over the future of rail travel between their respective nations.
Last week, Eurostar -- which is controlled by French state rail operator SNCF -- ordered 10 trains from German conglomerate Siemens, a deal worth approximately $943 million.
The problem? France is home to rival train manufacturer Alstom. That fact led French transport minister Dominique Bussereau to express his "stupefaction" to local broadsheet Le Monde that the trains didn't comply with security protocol in the Channel Tunnel, which connects France and Britain.
Alstom's trains, of course, meet regulations.
So it goes, then, that the actual complaint appears to be a lightly veiled protest that the home favorite wasn't picked for the first time. (Consider the Le Monde article's headline: "Eurostar prefers Siemens to Alstom.")
German economic minister Rainer Bruederle responded by calling France's outcry "protectionist."
Britain then threw its weight behind the original decision.
All of a sudden, the major western European powers are in a transit row.
First, a word on the security complaint. To allow the use of the Siemens Velaro D trains in question, the rail companies need amendments to existing safety rules.
The reason: the Siemens trains use motors underneath the carriage, rather than locomotives at each end, and have separate units, rather than a continuous corridor. The concern: whether passengers are able to safely evacuate the train in the event of a fire. (A more detailed explanation can be found in the comments section of this post. Thanks, mjxguerra! -Ed.)
But officials reportedly said that tests demonstrated that the trains were safe.
From what has been reported about the deal, it appears that Siemens had a more attractively priced bid than Alstom -- and after all, business is business.
From Eurostar operator Eurotunnel's point of view, the multi-unit trains will allow the operator to better match capacity with demand and keep tunnel access charges down. The latter comes into play because Germany's Deutsche Bahn would join units from two France-bound trains in Lille, thus only incurring a single transit charge.
Ultimately, Eurotunnel seeks to cut travel times and add destinations in an effort to win back business from the airline industry. Will increased competition by its manufacturing partners help it achieve that goal?
Oct 19, 2010
On long journeys, I much prefer the trains with continuous corridors, which allow you to go for a walk. But I suppose the multiple trains are more practical where trains are going to divide and connect. It is a pain, though, when you have a reserved seat but get onto the wrong section of the train by mistake and cannot get through. The current Eurostar trains are, if I remember right, specially modified TGVs. TGVs share bogies between coaches, but in the Eurostar there is a dividing point in the middle where there are two bogies instead of one shared. This allows the train to split in case of accident, leaving one half behind and evacuating with the other half. TRiG.
Thanks for a better explanation of the situation, mxjguerra. I've amended the article with your input.
I think this article or its sources have slightly confused the issue of Siemens trains. Eurostar have ordered 400m trains from Siemens (which should not have a problem with the Eurotunnel safety issue which requires trains over 375m long), while Deutsche Bahn want to use 2no. 200m Siemens ICE 3 trains in multiple, without a through corridor between units. The issue is about obtaining a derrogation to be able to use trains in multiple and still be able to evacuate passengers in an emergency to the nearest exit, which might be up to 190m away. In case of a fire the tunnel may be too dangerous for passengers to walk that far, but there is more room to manouveur outside a train than within it, so making passage to the nearest adit quicker. If the train is on fire then you want to be off it as quickly as possible by the nearst door. The issue about traction is somewhat of red-herring. The new Alstom AGV trains have shared traction anyway (like the ICE) so having the traction at each end was going to change anyway. For me the big surprise was that Eurostar did not go for double-deck trains, as capacity at popular times of day is a serious issue, along with marginal luggage space (why do people travel with so much stuff in unliftable wheelie cases?). The original Eurostar trains were built to the small UK loading gauge, it would have been nice to have new trains that provided a bit more room, instead of supposed 'airline comfort'! (surely a contradiction in terms).