Posted 8th October 2010 | 7 Comments

Alstom and French ministers play safety card in bid to block Eurostar Siemens purchase

THE French train maker Alstom and French ministers are calling for Eurostar's acquisition of Siemens Velaro trains to be quashed, on the grounds that the rolling stock will not comply with Channel Tunnel safety rules.

Eurostar unveiled a mock-up of its new e320 train in London, at an event attended by transport secretary Philip Hammond.

The new trains are due in service in 2014, and will allow Eurostar to expand its network to such destinations as Geneva, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Lyon.

But the Velaro sets represent at least one major departure from the existing Eurostars because they have distributed traction, with motors under each coach, rather than power cars at each end of the train.

The safety rules which govern operation through the Tunnel are currently under review, and some requirements may be removed, but until now distributed traction had not been permitted.

The board of Eurostar International voted to proceed with the acquisition last Friday, but their plans have angered both the French government and French train builder Alstom, which has supplied all TGVs so far, including the original build of Eurostars in the early 1990s.

European law does not allow a government to officially favour companies in its own country, so the statements which have been issued concentrate on the safety issues.

Transport and environment ministers in Paris said they were ‘amazed’ by Eurostar's decision to choose Siemens Velaros, and called upon the operator to change the terms of its contract to conform with current safety rules.

Alstom has also entered the fray, by saying that ‘current security rules applying to trains travelling through the Channel Tunnel conform to the highest possible standards and consequently do not permit the use of the trains that Eurostar states it has purchased’.

Further conflicts may well lie ahead. A Deutsche Bahn ICE set is due to arrive at St Pancras International on 19 October having made an official test run to London, and the use of German ICEs has also been criticised in France.

The German response has been to accuse the French government of trying to limit Channel Tunnel traffic to its own trains and operators, such as Eurostar, in which it has an interest.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • James Bircumshaw, Notts, England

    The control of fire is to keep heat from combustable material and monitor potential fire risk areas with sensors that would warn of any potential risks. The monitiring of the whole train and tunnel would ensure that these risks are A.L.A.R.P. the Channel Tunnel made some alterations with the three fires which cost them huge fanacial losses and put people lives at risk. The threat maybe the materials used eg Aliminum that burn at low temps and Plastics that give high levels of toxic gasses. One would assume these have been considered in the high risk of being in a tunnel were these materails would increase dangers to passengers in the event of fire or explosion. It not about who is manufacturing its about thee best product for the job. Trains that can go straight through Europe

  • brian, Beeston (Notts), England

    And if France wins the argument Eurostar would buy the Alstom AGV then? erm, no actually that uses distributed traction as well. The French Govt have to be seen to be making a fuss, since SCNF isnt buying much from Alstom at the moment either. But the safety argument is as usual a cover for protectionism.

  • isaac, welwyn

    How can distributed power on trains using the tunnel be a safety issue? I'm not being sarcastic, I actualy donít know?
    [The Editor writes: The concern is that a fire in a motor would then be under a vehicle containing passengers. It is argued that such a fire would less easy to contain and also more hazardous than an outbreak is a separate power car at the end of the train.]

  • julen, near gasteiz, euskal herria-basque country

    That infamous French company, Alsthom, killed a huge part of the UK`s train manufacturing industry when they closed down the Metro Cammell Weyman Birmingham plant, for competitive reasons, as they said.....well, for competitive reasons Siemens has been chosen as the supplier of the new chunnel trains.

    So French, shut up!

  • Claydon William, Norwich, Norfolk, England

    French hypocrites ?.........who knows..........all I'm saying is that I wouldn't mind betting some of these French ministers who are criticising the Seimens Eurostar order; are exactly the same people who criticised the Americans for being protectionist, when they cancelled the huge 179 x Airbus A330 air refueller order in favour of Boeing last year.

    I don't know whether its right or wrong; its just kind of.......well........French.

  • Noam, OXFORD

    Yeah it's hilarious isn't it? Alstom themselves were trying to sell their new AGV to Eurostar - and the AGV also has distributed power! What a bunch of spoilt hypocrites.

  • Claydon William, Norwich, Norfolk, England

    What; protectionist anti-competetive national interest alive and kicking in France and Germany ? Surely not.

    If this was a British company, seeking to favour British built trains from a British manufacturer; (if such a thing existed anymore); the EU would be all over this like a rash.