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Business

Eurostar hires Siemens to supply new trains, angering France

Channel Tunnel rail operator Eurostar has contracted Siemens with supplying 10 new trains as part of a new investment plan. The move angered French rival manufacturer Alstom, which had been Eurostar's only supplier.

Train enters Channel Tunnel

So far Alstom has been the sole supplier to Eurostar

German manufacturing conglomerate Siemens is to supply 10 new trains for an expansion of high-speed rail transit between London and Paris, Channel Tunnel rail operator Eurostar announced on Thursday.

Eurostar said in a statement that it would be investing 700 million pounds ($1.1 billion) "in the purchase of new trains and the overhaul and refurbishment of its existing train fleet." It said the new Siemens "Velaro" trains would increase capacity by 20 percent and would be delivered in 2014.

Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic told a news conference in London that the new trains would make Eurostar "the obvious choice for short-haul European travel."

Siemens Velaro train

The Siemens Velaro is to increase capacity by 20 percent

"Over the last 16 years Eurostar has revolutionized travel between London, Paris and Brussels, but our sights are now set on expanding our business across Europe," he said.

Safety allegations

The choice of Siemens meant shunning French manufacturer Alstom, which supplies France's high-speed TGV network and until now has been the sole provider of trains to Eurostar.

French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and Junior Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said they were "amazed" by the decision by Eurostar, 55 percent of which is owned by French state-owned rail operator SNCF.

They said in a statement that Eurostar must ensure the Siemens trains improve safety in the 54-kilometer (33 mile) Channel Tunnel or they would not accept the new operating conditions.

Alstom inserted itself in the debate as well, saying the current safety rules in the Channel Tunnel "conform to the highest possible standards" and thus would not permit the use of the Siemens trains that Eurostar purchased.

Despite the accusations, Eurostar said only "a few legal details" had yet to be resolved before the deal could be completed.

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn plans to offer services to London through the Channel Tunnel for the Olympics in 2012, and to extend service to Cologne and Frankfurt starting in 2013.

Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP/Reuters/dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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