Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

One step forward…

Posted in Customer service, Europe, Great Britain, High Speed, Politics, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 22 March 2011

We are edging ever closer to the introduction of new passenger services through the Channel Tunnel with the publication of a report by the European Railways Agency regarding the safety issues of using distributed traction in the Tunnel. This report suggests that there is no practical reason why trains using distributed traction rather than power cars should be banned from operating in the Tunnel, and so has recommended that the IGC goes ahead with its proposed alterations to the safety rules that will permit operators to use distributed traction trains on passenger services. The ERA has also concluded that

There is . . . no justification for a study comparing the merits of different traction design configurations

Such a study was proposed by the French as a way of determining the “relative safety” of distributed traction against power cars, which presumably most people will take to be simply a delaying tactic in an effort to postpone the procurement process in favour of Alstom. Alstom meanwhile have put out the following press release:

The safety regulations in the Channel Tunnel are under the sole responsibility of the Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC).

The technical position of the European Rail Agency (ERA) states that the operation of distributed power trains in the tunnel could be considered – a point never challenged by Alstom – provided that it can be demonstrated that this rolling stock is as safe as the current Eurostar trains, which means that appropriate safety studies and tests should have been made. Alstom is not informed that such studies and testing have been carried out.

The debate in progress on the safety regulations further underlines that it was not possible for Eurostar to carry out a fair tender and to select a train while the technical framework of the offers was not and is still not known.

Given that, as part of Deutsche Bahn’s bringing one of their ICE3 trains to London in October, they undertook a series of safety tests in the Tunnel itself that proved that, if needed, the Class 407 units that DB would use on its London services could be evacuated as easily as Eurostar’s Class 373s, seemingly to the satisfaction of both the IGC and Eurotunnel, I’m surprised that Alstom hadn’t heard about it. Additionally, DB ordered its Class 407 specifically with operating in the Tunnel in mind, and so ensured that its planned fire suppression was to the standard required, as well as ensuring that, unlike the Class 403 and 406 units, there is a blocked off space between the driver’s cab and the passengers. Given that the IGC, and the ERA, had both said they were minded to recommend changing the safety rules, can we really say that there was a “debate”? Perhaps Eurostar could have been more open with the procurement process, but for Alstom to carry on with the safety argument is a bit rich. Still, we will probably get some final confirmation that Eurostar will go ahead with their purchase of 10 units from Siemens. The irony of this is that Eurostar’s planned e320, which will be broadly identical to the Class 407, will likely have less difficulty being accepted because of their length (16 cars as opposed to 8). Expect DB to start running its services from the December 2013 timetable change, and Eurostar once it gets its new trains.

ERA Technical opinion regarding the safety related aspects of the IGC’s conclusions 

“DB and Eurostar line up for race to Britain”
“London to Frankfurt high-speed rail link back on track”

Expect this to be a regular sight come 2013

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