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Friday 28 October 2011

Daily Star Rides The Bigot Express

Today’s Daily Star has uncovered a dastardly plot. A plot so dastardly that it involves jobs – sorry, Our Jobs – the rotten French, and trains, which the Desmond hackery doesn’t understand if their crews talk foreign. This fresh and suitably steaming pile of bullpucky has then been re-heated by the Express and even picked up by the Mail. And it’s complete and utter fantasy from start to finish.

India in the EU? Whatever, they're all foreigners

Under the by-line of Ed Riley, the Star gasps in horror “Unemployed French workers will be packed off on cut-price trains to find jobs in Britain”. The Star was so flush with cash that it had to use a stock photo showing the coast of, er, India. The Express piles in with “A French plot to send hordes of unemployed workers to snatch our jobs sparked outrage last night” (It’s always “last night” at the Express).

Big nasty garlic crunching engine coming for your jobs

At least the Express managed a stock photo of a French train. But, sadly for the Desmond press and the usual dubious array of rent-a-quote politicians – Nigel “Thirsty” Farage, the self-promoting Priti Patel, and (to his shame) Damian Green – this story is complete crap, as is the guff about “Officials in Calais were studying the plans and a consultant’s study will be published next month”.

But how can I be so sure? After all, it all looks to have been investigated and worked out: “The plan will use French regional commuter trains on the high speed Eurostar rail link between Calais and Ashford in Kent” says the Star. But have another look at that statement: Eurostar is a service running through the Channel Tunnel, not a rail link. Someone hasn’t done their research.

Eurostar (the train) at St Pancras International

I’ll go further: there hasn’t been any research done. At all. I can be sure of this, because a few minutes’ investigation would reveal that no operator can just send any train of their choosing through the Channel Tunnel in passenger carrying service. At present, the only such trains permitted at the Eurostar sets, and they must meet stringent safety criteria.

These – overseen by the Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission – include the ability to split the train in case of emergency, and stipulate the train length, the latter being matched to the distance between access passages to the central service tunnel. When German operator DB wants permission to run trains through the Tunnel, it too will have to show that its offering meets the spec.

And all this is before adapting the trains to use the Tunnel’s signalling system, then getting paths through a tunnel that is already busy with vehicle shuttle traffic. Then siding and servicing space would be needed at Ashford for trains that would be too large to use the UK’s own rail network. It’s not going to happen.

Thus a story that is pure invention. Making up copy to frighten the readers? That’ll be another Benchmark Of Excellence.


Tony Boyce, Canterbury said...

I know SNCF have just renewed the lease on the Regional Eurostar sets for the Nord Pas de Calais TERGV services - wonder if there's a possibility of the Trans Manche Metro plans coming to fruition, which have been supported by Kent County Council?

Alex Macfie said...

I agree that these articles in the Fail and other "news"papers are rubbish. However, I think you are wrong in concluding that it's about something that is "not going to happen".

First of all, a cross-channel commuter rail service is actually a very good idea in principle, as it would make travel between UK and mainland Europe much more convenient than it is now, especially for shorter-distance journeys between Kent and Pas-de-Calais (not really possible by Eurostar). What I object to is the ludicrous spin on it from the tabloid press.

The articles are about a serious proposal for a new train service, based on discussions between local authorities in Kent and Pas-de-Calais. See this link

As far as the technical feasibility of the scheme is concerned (and like you I am not an expert):
-- the Channel Tunnel is currently running well *under* capacity. Most sources give the current usage as 52-57% of the maximum. This being the case, there is plenty of room in the Tunnel for additional passenger services.
-- The proposal, as I understand it, is to run stopping (i.e. semi-fast) trains from Lille, through the Channel Tunnel, and along HS1 to St Pancras. In other words, like Eurostar but with more stops. Clearly this is possible because it would be running entirely on infrastructure that is already there. [It is not intended that the trains run on 'classic' rail lines in the UK!] The very fact that there is already a passenger train service running along the same path as the proposed service does imply that it is possible!
-- Train sets suitable for running through the Channel Tunnel are available. There are a lot of ex-Eurostar sets knocking around and being used in France (for domestic TGV services, including for the TERGV services mentioned by Tony Boyce) and UK (on the East Coast) among others. And the SouthEastern trains used for domestic high-speed services can also be made to run through the Channel Tunnel. Anyway since the original Eurostar train sets are basically modified TGV sets, it should be possible to make other TGV sets suitable for cross-Channel operation.

Of course there are technical issues to resolve before any new rail service is run (even on existing infrastructure). But to say it "can't be done" and "isn't going to happen" is a major leap from this. In any case, I am sure that the people behind the proposal have done their homework on this. The biggest obstacles are almost certainly political, including ridiculously tight cross-border security, how to get agreement between different train operators, and ignorant news articles like these ones from the Fail, Express and Star.

Alex Macfie said...

Some (sensible) articles on the cross-channel commuter rail service proposal:
Although it probably still has some way to go before it's a reality, these news reports do indicate that running commuter trains through the Channel Tunnel is a serious proposal, and not the invention of some tabloid hack.