Eurostar targets new markets with �700m investment in trains

Eurostar intends to buy ten new high-speed trains from Siemens as part of a £700 million investment in its fleet, enabling it to serve new destinations.

The decision represents the business's first key initiative since it was transformed from a three-nation partnership of train operators to a unified corporate entity at the beginning of September. Eurostar International Ltd is owned by three shareholders: the French and Belgian rail operators SNCF and SNCB and London & Continental Railways.

Part of the Siemens Velaro high-speed train family, the new Eurostar e320 trains will be built to a bespoke specification, including multiple voltage systems for operation across the European high speed rail network, enabling the company to provide direct services between London and a greater range of city centre destinations throughout Europe.

With capacity to carry more than 900 passengers including their luggage, the e320 will have 20 per cent more seats than the existing Eurostar trains, which carry 750 travellers.

Named for its speed capability of 320km/h (200mph), the e320 could see journey times between London and Paris reduced to just over two hours and London to Amsterdam to under four hours. Shorter journey times would make rail a more attractive option for journeys between south-east England and German cities such as Cologne and Frankfurt, as well as southern France or even Geneva.

While the current Eurostar trains have power cars at the ends, the German-built Velaro features a distributed traction system, with motors underneath the vehicle bodies along the length of the train. This has prompted French safety authorities to raise concerns about fire suppression within the Channel Tunnel. However, Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic pointed out that the trains had been specified for use in the Tunnel, adding that he was "confident that common sense will prevail".

From 2011, alongside the new build, Eurostar will embark on the complete overhaul and refurbishment of its existing fleet of trains to a design created by Pininfarina, the renowned Italian design house. This design draws on extensive passenger feedback and includes innovative features intended to create "an exceptional travel experience" for customers.

Eurostar says the new fleet will be equipped with the most advanced wi-fi and on-board ‘infotainment’ on any train in Europe. This will include real-time travel and destination information as well as interactive entertainment including video-on-demand, music and news-feeds.

The e320 was unveiled in London's Hyde Park. Speaking at the event, Petrovic said: “Over the last 16 years Eurostar has revolutionised travel between the London, Paris and Brussels but our sights are now set on expanding our business across Europe.

"The transformation of Eurostar into a standalone business and the major capital investment announced today is a mark of our growth ambitions for the future. The combination of our new state-of-the-art trains and our refurbished fleet will assure our position as the leading rail operator between the UK and the continent and make us the obvious choice for short-haul European travel."

UK Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond, who also attended the launch, welcomed Eurostar's new status as "a company well placed to attract the resources and investment needed to deliver a world-class service," and reaffirmed his desire to see a new British high-speed rail network" eventually connected to the Channel Tunnel link used by international services.

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