The first new Eurostar trains, being manufactured by Siemens in Germany, are already largely complete and testing is well underway. It was in October 2010 that Eurostar announced that it had selected Siemens to build 10 new trains which would be designated Eurostar e320. The announcement was a bit of a surprise to those who felt that Eurostar, which is 55% owned by SNCF – the French state railway operator – would be sure to buy a French train.

It surprised the French government as well. Two SNCF- appointed directors to Eurostar resigned and French president Nicolas Sarkozy took the matter up with German chancellor Angela Merkel. At the same time, lawyers argued that the Siemens train didn’t comply with safety regulations for running through the channel tunnel and so the contract should be declared invalid.

At the end of the day, nothing changed. The order for 10 train sets, each 400 metres long, was confirmed for a total of around £550 million. Delivery was scheduled for 2014. At the same time, Eurostar announced a further £150 million would be spent on refurbishing its existing trains which have been in service since 1993.

More passengers to more destinations

The new trains are intended to expand Eurostar’s international services. The current fleet does not comply with European interoperability standards and is restricted to running a service between the UK, France and Belgium. The new Eurostar e320 sets will be able to operate to Amsterdam, Cologne (Köln) and other continental destinations.

Manufactured at the Siemens factory in Krefeld, the bespoke design of the new Eurostar trains is based on that of the successful Velaro family, examples of which are already running in Germany, Spain and China. The aluminium- bodied trains will be able to carry 890 passengers and their luggage, around 20% more than the existing fleet, at speeds of up to 320 km/hr (200mph).

Much of the extra space comes from having no dedicated power cars. Instead, traction motors are distributed along the train – one of the changes from the older class that caused most of the complaints about the contract. This frees up passenger space in the two end cars.

In order to be able to operate in several countries, the new trains will be fitted with various different signalling systems and are capable of running off 25kV 50 Hz AC, 15kV 16.7 Hz AC, 3000V DC and 1500V DC supplies. Power output is 16MW or 21,000hp.

The first half-sets started appearing from the Krefeld factory at the end of 2012 and were taken by rail to Siemens’ test track at Wildenrath. Initial tests on an 8-car set proved encouraging and it wasn’t long before full, 400-metre long trains were seen on the six kilometre oval track, running at speeds of up to 160 km/hr.

On the main line

By the autumn of 2013, five full trains had been completed and, while four remained at Wildenrath, one was hitched up to a Class 66 freight locomotive and taken to Forest-South depot across the border in Belgium. There, power tests could be carried out on a 13-kilometre section of the main line between Gare d’Ath and Gare de Silly.

Meanwhile, interoperability is still a thorny issue. The approval process, which is being carried out by the German Federal Railway Authority (EBA), is following on from that of Deutsche Bahn’s new Velaro D (Class 407) which were due to enter service in 2011 but are still hung up in testing. These delays will have an impact on the new Eurostar, which now may not be ready for service before 2015.

Once all the approvals are in place, the new e320 (Class 374 in the UK) will both be available for use on the existing Eurostar network and can start development runs to other destinations. Eurostar recently announced that a scheduled service from St Pancras to Amsterdam will start at the end of 2016.

So it is a long drawn-out process. Siemens is paying the price for being one of the first to develop truly international and interoperable trains. Hopefully, in the light of this experience, approving vehicles for international service will only become easier.

Exotic styling

Meantime, the first of the original (Class 373) sets was withdrawn from service after the Olympics were over. It is currently at Eurostar’s Le Landy depot in northern France where it is being fitted with a completely new interior. This has been designed by Italian styling house Pininfarina, perhaps more famous for work with Ferrari and other exotic car manufacturers.

Described by Eurostar as “completely new – much more than new carpets and a lick of paint”, the design is being kept a closely- guarded secret as it will transform the look of the twenty-year-old trains. It will be revealed when the first train re-enters service in the first half of 2014.

The interior of the e320/Class 374 will be very similar. Different in detail due to it being in a different train, the intention is that the family resemblance will be strong and passengers will be in no
doubt that they are travelling in a Eurostar.

So the interesting and elegant new trains will have exotic and fresh new interiors. International train travel has a bright future.