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Deutsche Bahn on track to chug through Chunnel

Germany's rail operator plans to expans its high-speed services to Britain and France by the end of the year. Access to the Channel Tunnel could help it connect the financial centers of London and Frankfurt.

A German high-speed ICE train

German trains could be using the Channel Tunnel by 2013

Deutsche Bahn wants to carry passengers on its high-speed Intercity Express (ICE) trains through the tunnel under the English Channel and is eying expansion into the French regional transportation market, according to Bahn head Ruediger Grube.

"We have been in talks with Eurotunnel for several months," Grube told reporters on Wednesday. "In October, we will proceed with a test run in the tunnel with an ICE-3."

Eurostar, the only company currently allowed to operate in the 50.5-kilometer (31.4-mile) undersea Channel Tunnel, is owned by the France's SNCF, Belgium's SNCB and Britain's London and Continental Railways group. Its 'Chunnel' services connect London, Brussels and Paris.

Kept out for safety reasons

The connection point at the end of two ICE trains

A group is working on changes to Eurotunnel safety rules

Safety conditions set by Eurotunnel call for trains in the Channel Tunnel to be at least 375 meters (1,230 feet) long and allow passengers to walk continuously through the entire train. Those rules have, so far, excluded 200-meter-long ICE trains from the Chunnel.

But Grube, German Transportation Minister Peter Ramsauer, French Transportation Minister Dominique Bussereau and the head of the French rail operator Guillaume Pepy have reached an agreement to alter the safety rules, according to a statement on Tuesday.

Changes to the current safety rules would also open the Chunnel route to the French national rail operator's high-speed TGV trains.

The Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission, which oversees safety issues, said Deutsche Bahn had not yet been cleared for the test run, as its request had only just been received. The commission added that it will examine the request before giving Eurotunnel clearance for the test run.

Expansion plans

A TGV in France alongside an empty set of rails

French trains may have to make room for German competition soon

Deutsche Bahn has said that following a number of trial runs, it expects to have regular service to London's St. Pancras station by 2013 - a stretch of track the German company said could carry 1.1 million people a year.

The German company is determined to expand internationally and is currently in talks with SNCF about a service from Frankfurt to the southern French cities of Lyon and Marseille from 2012, Grube said.

Germany opened its tracks to foreign competitions and has seen the French company Veolia Transport rise among the ranks of private transport companies operating in Germany.

Ramsauer said the French regional transportation market would likely open to foreign competition "in the very near future."

Author: Sean Sinico (AFP, dpa, AP)

Editor: Sam Edmonds

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