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Friday 14 November 2014

Eurostar – Press Release Churn Failure

As budgets are put under more pressure, papers have inevitably shed specialist staff, so that there is invariably no knowledge of transport matters in-house beyond someone who occasionally gets out of the office to road test cars. This means that press releases tend to get churned over when it comes to anything else. But, as the latest news from train operator Eurostar shows, they can’t even get that right.
Eurostar train sets at St Pancras International

Eurostar has bought some new trains. These are being built by Siemens in Germany. Ten were ordered; the company has since increased its order to 17. The new trains have a top speed of 320km/h, or 198mph. They can seat 900 passengers, and will have Wi-Fi throughout (please note, Virgin Trains, in Standard Class as well as in First). The estimated date of first service is late next year.

Some papers have effectively admitted they are churning over the press release: for instance, the Telegraph has putAgency” on the by-line. And the Tel has stuck to what that press release says. But just saying the new trains are, well, new was too much for some in the Fourth Estate. Someone, somewhere, decided they would slash London to Paris journey times.

The Independent was cautious: “it is reportedly estimated to cut journey times from London to Paris by 15 minutes”. Not so the Mail: “London to Paris in just two hours: Eurostar unveils new state-of-the-art 200mph train that will slash journey time by 15 minutes”. The Standard concurred: “Eurostar launches new 200mph trains which will slash London-Paris journey times”.

But, as Captain Blackadder might have observed, there was only one thing wrong with this idea – it was bollocks. There is no location between London and Paris – or between London and Brussels, for that matter – that permits a higher line speed than 300km/h, which the current TGV-derived Eurostar sets can already achieve. Any time savings would be down to better acceleration – and would be minimal.

What the press also fails to mention as it tells of direct services from London to, well, all over Europe is that the UK Government’s security paranoia, which excludes us from joining the Schengen zone, means the same baggage and passport checks not just at St Pancras International, but also most likely during an enforced en-route stop at Lille. But, of course, that isn’t in the press release.

It has been left to the deeply subversive Guardian to give readers the more factual stuff: “The trains are slightly higher and wider than the original”. The original Eurostar sets had to fit within the Network Rail structure gauge. The new ones don’t, and so are more spacious. But they still aren’t going to slash journey times between London and Paris, or London and Brussels.

Our free and fearless press – it can’t even copy a press release correctly.


SteveB said...

There's "journey time" and "journey time". To operators it's from when the wheels start moving to when they stop. To passengers it's when you have to be there until when you can go your own way. Eurostar has always had checkin time stuck on the front but thanks to newspaper scare stories and Home Office panic most from Brussels now have extra hanging aorund time at the end whilst a second passport check is done. A 15 minute saving by the operators' calculation would be needed to get many passengers from Brussels back to where they were 2 years ago!

Still, trains that are capable of going faster than they are allowed to is nothing new in Britain. The East Coast's Class91/Mark 4 trains were designed for 140mph in 1988 but have never been permitted to go more than 125mph and the same happened to Virgin's Pendolinos, except they had to have a spell of 110 first!

Unknown said...

Another thing about the e320s is that they apparently go straight onto London-Paris, with 373s on the other routes, which by definition are mostly longer (other than Brussels). Some might actually benefit from 320kph in places - isn't some of the Marseille line 320?

The real reason for the e320s is cost (much cheaper to maintain, being newer and not squashed into a UK loading gauge) and capacity (900-odd passengers, or two A380s worth per trip).

Reputedly on Friday evening Eurostar are capacity constrained on Paris runs, and can easily sell more tickets if they had more seats, hence the urgency of getting e320s on that route, regardless of journey time improvements. 373s are fine for longer, thinner trips, but even there they're getting a bit long in the tooth - the French are scrapping three of their sets.

Anonymous said...

Even if the infrastructure could take much higher speeds Eurostar may have found the same problem as the Japanese did with the latest Shinkansen. When the Japanese ran them at design speed the lineside noise was so great it disturbed residents, so the speed had to be reduced.

john b said...

LGV Nord and HS1 both have design speeds in excess of 300km/h - the issue is more that for capacity reasons, it's unlikely to be sensible to run the e320s at a slightly higher speed than the existing sets. As we know from WCML experience...

Richard Gadsden said...

IC225s on the ECML had a period when they could run at their full speed on "flashing green" signals, but the regulations were changed to require in-cab signalling above 125 mph.