Posted 14th October 2010 | 10 Comments

First German ICE enters Channel Tunnel

(Image: Eurotunnel)

(Image: Eurotunnel)

A DEUTSCHE Bahn ICE train has run into the Channel Tunnel on the first of several tests in anticipation of the formal arrival of an ICE at St Pancras next week, when it is set to be welcomed by transport secretary Philip Hammond.

But the ceremony in London, on 19 October, will also be the latest milestone in the continuing friction between the French and German railway administrations, in which Eurostar is somewhere in the middle.

DB has been critical of Channel Tunnel safety rules, which it claims are designed to keep all but French passenger trains out of the Tunnel, in defiance of European Union rules on international open access.

One of the sticking points is the use of distributed traction, with motors under each coach, rather than separate power cars. The rule against distributed traction was intended to avoid the possibility of a motor fire breaking out  under a train in the tunnel.

But the Anglo-French Intergovernmental Commission, which is the arbiter on the Chunnel rulebook, is presently consulting on the removal of some of the restrictions, now that the Tunnel has been open for 16 years.

The Eurostar board voted earlier this month to proceed with an order for ten Siemens Velaro-D train sets, which have distributed traction. However, the same is true of the equivalent product from French train-builder Alstom.

The new trains are intended to allow Eurostar to serve more destinations from 2014, probably including Amsterdam and possibly Geneva and Lyon as well. Services between London and German cities such as Frankfurt would also be possible.

Alstom has joined the French government in criticising the Eurostar order on safety grounds. The acquisition was approved, ironically, by a board on which the French state rail operator SNCF has a 55 per cent majority.

The current tests of German ICEs started on 13 October and are understood to include a full evacuation exercise inside the Tunnel on Sunday.

These tests are not merely the overture to next Tuesday's event: they also seem calculated to serve warning on both SCNF and Eurostar that DB intends to make international open access to London a reality -- if it possibly can.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Anthony farrar, Worthing, UK

    DB has been critical of Channel Tunnel safety rules, which it claims are designed to keep all but French passenger trains out of the Tunnel, in defiance of European Union rules on international open access.

    What about DB buying up British rail networks, while not allowing foreign (EU) ownershipo of any of its networks. France has done likewise. This also runs counter to EU laws.

  • Pedro, Michigan, USA

    Most subways have distributed traction, run in tunnels, and are very safe. What's the big deal?

  • Steve, Letchworth, UK

    Having shadowed a Eurostar driver recently, there's more to it than just bolting in TVM signalling. For the tunnel, pantograph contact wire setting is a lot higher, door steps would have to be set at a different level to evacuate the train, the fireproofing in and between coaches would need improving, and 390s axle loadings are too heavy for high speed lines.
    But I assume 395s could potentially go through the tunnel subject to fireproofing regs?
    And the halon system used in Eurostar power cars will be installed on trains with distributed traction to minimise fire risk to passengers?

  • U. Grimm, Darmstadt, Germany

    French TGVs have been running into Germany and German ICEs (=Siemens Velaro) into France for some time now.
    It took the TGVs a few month to get the approval for Germany, but it took the ICEs a full five years (with a 30 million Euro pricetag) to get the approval from the French. Some of the reasons: On the ICEs no seats were equipped with metal eyelets criminals could be handcuffed to, should it become neccessary to transfer them to prison by highspeed train. Same applied to those little explosive capsules, which the drivers of broken down TGVs are supposed to place on the tracks behind their train, to warn following trains of the hazard. In case of highspeed tracks we are talking of a three-mile-walk for the poor train operator, to place the charges on the tracks far enough from his own train, to give any oncoming train a chance to stop in due time. Should he want to return to his train to take care of his passengers, it would be another three miles.
    Yes, this kind of "hightech" nonsense is now also part of any ICE running into France. I would not know of any adaptations of this quality which the French had to deal with. Even the less efficient brakes of the TGV were not enough reason to keep it off German rails.

  • KEV SMITH, northampton, uk

    the channel tunnel is what it is - a tunnel - how much testing is needed to operate a unit these days to operate through this tunnel, if multiple traction motors are needed - whats wrong with a 390, TVM should be easy to fit, with their rated speed of 140 and possible more - they would be perfect, TGV should be no problem, ice no problem or 395.

    if all they need is type testing through then do it, do the evac tests and standing start tests on 1/2 power etc and do it.

    if eurostars can operate safely then why not anything else?

    a bit like BA saying one else can use the concordes because they are so advanced - rubbish !! monopoly attempted and it will fail

    its about time the UK entered 21st century rail travel properly, eurostars look great in paris, a TGV/ ICE will look great in LONDON

    about time too i think

  • James Pinder, Wakefield,, UK

    In Britain, the vast majority of modern electric trains are distibuted traction types. France is notorious for putting obstacles in the way of competition, and it should give up with good grace. (I have no doubt the Germans are the same). Let us get some proper services through the tunnel, and we can tackle the real "enemy", short haul aircraft flights.

  • Andy, Milton Keynes, UK

    Almost all the passenger trains in the UK use distributed traction. If there is passenger seating in the front and the back vehicle then it uses distributed traction. It is tried, trusted and very safe.

  • brian, Beeston (Notts), England

    I do find the safety argument about distributed traction slightly amusing, since if it did continue to be banned from the tunnel (which I think is unlikely given the momentum gathering behind E* & DB) that would also preclude Alstoms AGV which is more or less the next generation TGV....(and also has a motor in each bogie...)

  • Patricia Rosewell, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom

    Informative article, and helpful comment, thanks.

    As a potential passenger I'm not happy about the use of distributed traction as explained above, since it appears to be less safe than using separate power cars.

    Is it known what sort of extra safety measures are proposed in the event of D.T. trains being adopted?

  • André Peretti, Bastia, Corsica, France

    Eurostar's choice of Siemens is more strategic than technical. They want to run their trains in Germany before DB's "invasion".
    Having Alstom rolling stock accepted in Germany would take a very long testing period. In that respect, the Germans are as good as the French at multiplying safety issues making tests not a matter of months but of years.
    By choosing German trains, Eurostar are sure no technical issues will be raised by the Germans.
    The situation is very delicate for the French government. Eurostar is, in fact, a branch of the SNCF. The French state owns 100% of it but only has a minority vote (7 representatives out of 18). The SNCF have often shown they can resist government pressure and they probably will this time too. So, the only thing left to the government is posturing. They don't want to be accused of closing their eyes on a French state company transferring jobs to Germany.
    Some, in France, also interpret the Siemens contract as a warning shot directed at Alstom. The aging TGV fleet will soon have to be renewed and it will be a far bigger deal than 10 Eurostar trains. The lesson is that the competition will be open and Alstom can't take the SNCF for granted.