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Deutsche Bahn plans high-speed trains to London by 2013

(Bloomberg News circulated the following story by Laurence Frost on September 22, 2010.)

BERLIN, Germany — Deutsche Bahn AG signed a cooperation agreement with the owner of the high-speed train track connecting London with the Channel Tunnel, paving the way for direct rail services between the U.K. and Germany.

The pact with High Speed 1 Ltd. initiates a process that could allow Deutsche Bahn to run Siemens AG’s InterCityExpress trains through the tunnel by 2013 in competition with Eurostar Group Ltd., which operates from London to Paris and Brussels.

Deutsche Bahn aims to link the U.K. capital’s St. Pancras station with cities in western Germany, it said in a statement today. To do so the Berlin-based company must win authorization from the French and British governments to run passenger trains via Groupe Eurotunnel SA’s 30-mile (48 kilometer) subsea link.

“We can now focus on joint working to ensure all safety, technical and commercial requirements are met prior to operation,” Ulrich Homburg, Deutsche Bahn’s board member for passenger services, said in the statement.

Eurostar is controlled by Societe Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, which like Deutsche Bahn is state owned.

More Competitive

Direct trains from London to Frankfurt might take about five hours, Deutsche Bahn said. While three hours has long been regarded as the cut-off below which trains can successfully compete with air travel, increasing security checks and overcrowding at airports is changing that assumption, it said.

Deutsche Bahn will begin safety tests through the tunnel with Siemens ICE rolling stock on Oct. 19 after the European Union in January introduced rules requiring track owners to grant access to new operators for cross-border services.

The EU directive alone doesn’t guarantee access to the tunnel, where only Eurostar’s specially designed trains comply with 15-year-old safety regulations.

Deutsche Bahn’s ICE units are 200 meters long, whereas under existing rules passenger trains using the tunnel must be at least 375 meters between locomotives, with a continuous aisle. In a fire, that would allow people to walk through the train and exit opposite a gap leading to a service shaft.

Trains must also have the ability to split in two and leave in opposite directions should one locomotive become damaged, and to exit the tunnel even when on fire. That requires the carriages and driver’s cab to be able to survive for at least 30 minutes, along with vital functions such as brakes.

Following the tests Deutsche Bahn will need to make a safety case to the Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission.

Should the new service go ahead, the German company will deploy Siemens’s latest ICE3 model on the route, which will be manufactured through 2012 and is due for authorization on High Speed 1 and in the tunnel in 2013, it said today.

HS1 Sale

Deutsche Bahn’s interest in services to London demonstrates investment opportunities for High Speed 1 as Britain’s coalition government seeks to sell a 30-year concession to run the line as part of an asset-disposal program aimed at paying down a 155 billion-pound ($243 billion) budget deficit, Paul Chapman, the U.K. company’s managing director, said in the statement.

Paris-based Eurotunnel is one of the bidders for High Speed 1 in the GB Speedrail group that includes the infrastructure units of shareholders Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Prudential Plc, the U.K.-based Universities Superannuation Scheme and French government-owned Caisse des Depots.

Another offer came from a group including Morgan Stanley’s infrastructure unit, 3i Infrastructure Plc and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, two people with knowledge of the auction said last month.

Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing’s Cheung Kong Infrastructure Holdings Ltd. also submitted a bid, two people said. Canada’s Borealis Infrastructure Management, teamed with the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, may have made an offer, the Daily Telegraph reported on Aug. 17, without citing anyone.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

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