Monday, 21 December 2009

From Russia with love

Shaken and angry, hundreds of exhausted Eurostar passengers finally arrived at London's St Pancras International station after being stuck in the Channel Tunnel for over eight hours last Friday (18 December).

Shaky and humiliated, Eurostar's chief executive Richard Brown faced the TV cameras trying to blame French melting ice and snow for electrical breakdowns on five trains on route from Paris. Brown couldn't, or maybe wouldn't, explain why Eurostar's 'winterisation procedures' brought in after similar past breakdowns had failed to prevent this latest spate of failures. 

Eurostar might have further explaining to do if Russia's new 'blizzard-tested' high speed trains - the 250kph (155mph) Velaro RUS, built by Siemens - start running between Moscow and St. Petersburg without suffering any winter breakdowns. 

The Russian rail company RZD calls these trains, the Sapsan, which means peregrine falcon. RZD is confident the Velaro RUS can run in Russia's harsh weather conditions. Moscow thermometers currently show the temperature at a bone-chilling -11˚C.

One possible long-term consequence of Eurostar's failures is that Eurostar could face competition to run high speed passenger services through the Channel Tunnel from other European operators. A new European Union law in force from December 13 means alternative train companies must be allowed to bid for open access operation on the continent's rail networks. Who knows, maybe a Deutsche Bahn train or a Russian Sapsan might glide into St Pancras International one fine but freezing day.

Photo shows a Velaro undergoing severe cold climate testing.
(Image courtesy of Siemens Press Pictures).

Paul Coleman, London, December 2009

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