Eurostar International Ltd. ordered seven Siemens AG e320 trains worth about $600 million, boosting capacity 20 percent compared with existing stock as it extends Channel Tunnel services to the Netherlands and Mediterranean.
The deal with the German supplier takes Eurostar’s backlog to 17 e320s, with the first due to enter service in a year’s time after trials in the U.K. that saw one of the high-speed sets enter London St. Pancras station for the first time today.
“We’ve had 10 years of constant growth so we’re confident there’s sufficient demand,” Chief Executive Officer Nicolas Petrovic said in an interview at Eurostar’s U.K. terminus. “With the e320s already on order and the refurbishment or our existing trains it’s going to be like a new start. Passengers will see a complete transformation of our service.”
After two decades with a timetable built around routes from London to Paris and Brussels, Eurostar is preparing to add trains to Amsterdam and Marseille while boosting connections with other operators across France and to Switzerland. The 900 seat, 200 mile-an-hour e320 is based on the Siemens Velaro-D model used on Deutsche Bahn AG’s ICE expresses in Germany.
The initial batch of 10 e320s was ordered in 2010 for 600 million pounds ($950 million), squeezing out a competing bid from Alstom SA, supplier of the original TGV-derived Eurostars.
In order to operate in the tunnel the new model, which has engines under its carriages rather than locomotives like the existing fleet, had to pass tests to show it could safely exit the tunnel or be evacuated in the event of a fire.
Of the 24 Alstom-built sets in the current fleet, the company is also upgrading 14 that will remain for the longer term at a cost of 100 million pounds.
The e320 is the same length but can carry more people since it lacks locomotives. Because the U.K. now has a dedicated link to the tunnel it is also higher and wider than the original trains which initially used existing track and tunnels to access Eurostar’s first London terminus at Waterloo.
Eurostar, where third-quarter passenger numbers grew 3 percent, will introduce its Marseille train in May, extending a summer service to Avignon into a year-round route to the Mediterranean with a stop at Lyon, France’s second-biggest city.
The London-Amsterdam operation, starting December 2016, will seek to penetrate Europe’s busiest international airline market, aided by stops at the tourism and business center of Antwerp, the port city of Rotterdam and Schiphol airport.
Eurostar is also adding indirect routes in France via links to SNCF and in Germany with Deutsche Bahn, changing in Brussels, while a London-Geneva route where people transfer to Swiss Lyria trains in Lille goes year-round in January.
The e320s are continuing testing in France and Belgium and commencing trials in Britain, with two already stationed at a depot near St. Pancras for maintenance training.
The units, with bigger seats, free Wi-Fi and interiors from Italian auto stylist Pininfarina, will enter commercial service next December, mainly on Paris services where demand is highest.
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