German train operator pitches for Channel Tunnel routes

Deutsche Bahn showcases new Siemens high-speed train in London, aims to challenge Eurostar's monopoly.

The ICE 3 train, which can hit 320km/h, was on display at London's St Pancras station following safety tests. Deutsche Bahn is aiming to operate services from London to Frankfurt and Cologne by the end of 2013.

"We see a London to Frankfurt service attracting 1.1 million more passengers annually and a London to Cologne service adding another million," said Fabienne Lissak, a spokeswoman for Eurotunnel, the operator of the Channel Tunnel.

In 2009, Eurotunnel made 44 per cent of its 571 million euros revenue from Eurostar which currently enjoys a monopoly on the track as sole rail passenger service operator, and from freight service operators. Eurostar carried 9.2 million passengers through the tunnel in 2009. Eurotunnel says that there is still around 50 per cent spare capacity.

The German company aims to run services three times a day between London and Amsterdam and Frankfurt. One 400-metre-long train would travel to Brussels and then split, with one half going on to Amsterdam and the other half travelling to Frankfurt via Cologne.

Eurostar, which is 55 percent owned by the French government through state-owned railway group SNCF, has also ordered new Siemens trains similar to the one Deutsche Bahn put on show.

France has been vocal in opposing Eurostar's decision to snub Alstom. Alstom and the French government say that Siemens trains might not comply with safety rules on the tunnel, though Alstom is also developing trains with distributed traction motors instead of locomotives.

Deutsche Bahn said on Tuesday its safety tests had gone better than expected.

A Franco-British governmental commission is reviewing the regulations.

"Our ICE 3 trains are very similar to the Velaro trains that Eurostar has ordered from Siemens, they are from the same production line," a Deutsche Bahn spokesman said. Deutsche Bahn has ordered 15 ICE 3 trains from Siemens for 500 million euros.

"The issues we will need approval for are distributed traction and allowing our trains to split."

On Monday, a European Union source told Reuters that the European Commission saw nothing wrong with Eurostar's procurement process for the trains and that Alstom had not officially referred the matter to European authorities.

Deutsche Bahn expects that journeys to Cologne will take just under four hours, with Frankfurt five hours away.

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