Posted 20th October 2010 | 6 Comments

Chunnel trains safety dispute 'is moving to courts'

THE growing controversy over the use of Siemens trains in the Channel Tunnel is poised to move to a British court.

A German ICE set was displayed at St Pancras International yesterday as an overture to future Deutsche Bahn services to London, but Alstom and the French government are claiming that the ICEs do not comply with Channel Tunnel safety rules.

The revelation that a British court could be asked to intervene has come from Eurostar chairman Richard Brown, who had been invited to St Pancras to see the German train.

He said that Alstom had threatened court action in Britain but declined to give any details, although he did confirm that Eurostar's legal advisors have become involved.

Eurostar is proceeding with an order for ten Siemens Velaro trains worth a reported 525 million Euros, which it wants to introduce on new routes in 2014 to cities such as Geneva, Lyon and Amsterdam.

Mr Brown is standing by his board's decision to buy the trains. He said: “There is no safety issue. We followed a thorough and comprehensive procurement process in line with EU regulation and with board support.”

Deutsche Bahn, too, is denying that its plans put safety in question. DB Chief Executive Rüdiger Grube told his audience at St Pancras that a test evacuation of 300 passengers from an ICE in the Channel Tunnel on Sunday had been ‘highly successful’.

The official start date for German services between London, the Netherlands and Germany is December 2013, but hints were being dropped by the German party at St Pancras that an earlier launch is being considered. 

German transport minister Peter Ramsauer said: “We are thinking of the Olympics”, perhaps implying that DB could be running to St Pancras from May 2012.

The German operator is proposing to run three 400m sets from London each day, which would divide at Brussels and then go forward as two separate trains to Rotterdam and Amsterdam on one route and Cologne and Frankfurt on the other.

The journey time to Frankfurt would be about five hours.

Richard Brown of Eurostar has always welcomed the prospect of competition on the international route from London. He told reporters at St Pancras: “We welcome Deutsche Bahn’s plans. We want them to help us grow the rail passenger market together.”

Rail unions, however, are also opposing any relaxation to Channel Tunnel rules, which are currently the subject of consultation.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow has warned: “RMT will fight any watering down of safety standards on the Channel Tunnel High Speed Rail Link – if those standards are tampered with simply in order to appease EU diktat it would be a major scandal with potentially lethal consequences.”

Reader Comments:

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

  • Claydon William, Norwich, Norfolk, England

    As usual Fat Cat Bob Crow is revealing his 'ludditic' inclinations.

    You really would have thought his union would want to encourage more rail jobs and thereby potentially more members.

    Is he really suggesting DB want to run 'unsafe' operations in any way ?

    Brother Bob really ought to be time-warped back into the 70's

  • Lorentz, London

    This good news, the courts are the best place to address this kind of political interference.

    The safety rules are currently under review, in part because they are over demanding, given that they were designed in part to fit the design of the existing Eurostar trains, not for safety.

    The RMT's involvement is as Luddites, and for the financial gain of its members - any changes are always seized upon as a way of gaining extra payments.

    Given that Eurotunnel has stated that only about 50% of the capacity through the tunnel is being used, there should not be a problem. The main bottle neck could be platform availability at St Pancras and could require adjustment to timetables to allow additional services to run.

  • Stephen Rowland, Leeds, UK

    I think there is some Jealousy here. Think about it On 14 November 1994 Eurostar services began between Waterloo International station in London, Gare du Nord in Paris and we got told then trains would run from Manchester (they even built shed for the Eurostar in Longsight) and Glasgow Etc to go Holland and Germay etc but now't became of it. Now Deutsche Bahn step in all these years later and it going off and it so funny now this as happen Eurostar are talking of introduce on new routes in 2014 Why Now after 16 years

  • Dave, Eastleigh, UK

    If this was really about safety I could have some sympathy. It seems to be more about the french losing an order for new trains and control of the services thru the tunnel....

  • Axel, Hemel, UK

    Crow is not on my Christmas card list (nor likely to be), but he and RMT have a legitimate interest in their members' safety - if not passengers'. I, for one, would defend efforts to keep the railway safe. We've already seen the impact - literally - of slipshod attitudes to safety.

    Extra jobs and commerce are great but just how much effect will another 3 trains (in each direction) have on the infrastructure?

  • brian, Beeston (Notts), England

    Since when has railway safety been RMTs responsibility?

    Sad to see a union fighting something which will generate more railway jobs, not just on trains but on track maintenance, signalling, station staff, etc..