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?