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French sue over Eurostar changes

TGV manufacturer takes Eurostar to court in safety row as German trains chosen to replace ageing Channel fleet

FRENCH TGV manufacturer Alstom is suing Eurostar after the Channel Tunnel transport company chose German trains to replace its fleet.

Alstom is complaining that the German models breach Channel Tunnel safety rules by using “distributive traction”, running power throughout the base of the train, rather than focusing it in engines at either end. While tunnel rules do prohibit this type of train, they are being altered to allow them to run.

Alstom is claiming that the decision to award the €600m deal to German manufacturer Siemens is invalid because it breaches current safety rules.

Eurostar has said the claim has no foundation.

Alstom’s next generation TGV, the AGV, due to enter service on Italian routes in 2011, also uses distributive traction.

Meanwhile, Deutsche Bahn is continuing its push to begin services through the tunnel using its current fleet of ICE3 trains. The rail company held safety drills last month to prove that their trains can be successfully evacuated in the tunnel, one of the criteria necessary to start operations.

The current Eurostar trains measure 400m, long enough to reach between the 375m gap between safety exits inside the tunnel. ICE3 trains are 200m long and will be coupled together for the journey. Deutsche Bahn had to prove to the Channel Tunnel safety authorities that the train formation could be efficiently evacuated in an emergency.

On October 19, an ICE3 model (manufactured by a consortium of Siemens and Bombadier) became the first non-UK or -French train to use the tunnel, arriving at Saint Pancras, London.

Deutsche Bahn hopes to start a London-Frankfurt route from 2013, passing through Brussels and Cologne en route. The trains, which travel at 200mph, would take four to five hours to complete the trip.

Since the tunnel opened in 1994, there have been three fires, all caused by lorries on freight trains.

Last December, five Eurostar trains broke down in the tunnel leaving thousands of passengers trapped underground for up to 16 hours. The resulting delays and cancellations left tens of thousands of travellers stranded during the peak holiday period.

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