Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Gotta love that free market attitude

Posted in Europe, High Speed, Politics, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 1 October 2010

In 2009, Eurostar made an announcement that it had begun the initial preparations towards expanding its existing fleet. At present, this consists of a total of 28 Class 373 units, which were built according to the initial Channel Tunnel safety rules, the primary ones of which were that the trains had to have power cars rather than distributed traction, they had to be at least 375m long full length, and that they had to be able to split in the middle. Of course, those rules were drawn up in 1994, and it’s now 2010, and the rules regarding distributed traction (where the traction machinery is located under the floor along the entire length of the train) and half-splitting have been withdrawn, while the 375m rule has been relaxed to an extent. This is why Deutsche Bahn are that much closer to getting their proposed London services off the ground. We also all recognise that the international rail market from London is increasing (hence the reason DB wants a piece of the action), and that Eurostar will have to keep pace, especially as its existing fleet is ready for its mid-life update, as well as any potential new destinations for Eurostar to reach. Hence the plan to purchase an additional ten trains. The Class 373 is recognised as something of a poor design, as it was built to fit the loading gauge of the railways in Kent. The full opening of High Speed 1 has stopped this from being an issue, and so Eurostar can purchase any of the current designs of high speed train currently in use in Europe. And in June it made a decision to go with the Velaro D, which DB have selected as their planned international train. All well and good, because the Velaro D is already built to the remaining tunnel safety specs in regards to fireproofing. This means that there is no need for any other potential train type to have to go through all the safety checks before it is given the go-ahead by the IGC. In addition, Eurostar’s circumstances have changed, in that it is now a fully incorporated company in its own right, rather than a branded service. So, there is no need for extended negotiations between the three individual former owners of the brand. Except that SNCF is the senior shareholder in the new company. SNCF is still a publically owned corporation, and thus the French government can exert some degree of influence. Thus it is that the French government stand accused of blocking the attempt by Eurostar to purchase a train-type that is not built in France. All of SNCF’s high speed operations, whether their own domestic ones, Eurostar or Thalys, use trains built by Alstom, an industrial conglomerate at the very heart of the French economy. Indeed, it was Sarkozy, when serving as the French finance minister in 2004, approved the government bail-out of Alstom when it was on the verge of bankruptcy. President Sarkozy has since questioned the right of Alstom’s competitors to enter the French market. All well and good. Except this is not the French market. SNCF may be the major shareholder, but Eurostar is an international company, and should be free to do as it pleases in terms of running its own service and procurement. Do the French have such a complex about their own manufacturing that they feel the need to protect it at any cost? Even at the cost of looking faintly ridiculous? One would hope that Eurostar will tell the French government what they think of the proposal.

“Eurostar considering larger fleet?”

“France unveils TGV’s successor”

“Eurostar picks Velaro to expand fleet”

“Row breaks out over Eurostar train order”

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