Deutsche Bahn’s ICE London service postponed yet again

Originally Deutsche Bahn was hopeful of running international trains to London in time for the 2012 Olympics. Its high-speed ICE train was launched in a blaze of publicity at London’s St Pancras in 2010 (see online news October 2010).

At the start of this year we reported that technical issues had pushed back the launch date until the end of 2013 (see online news January 9), and now comes news that DB does not expect to operate through trains between Germany and London St Pancras before 2016 at the earliest.

According to a report on Spiegel Online, ongoing technical issues at train builder Siemens means that the new ICE trains being ordered for domestic and international operation will not be ready in time.

As Business Traveller has explained in the past, the operation of international trains within Europe is a complex operation because every country has its own technical standards.

The existing Eurostar trains get round this by using sophisticated technology. But they cannot run beyond Belgium and France into Holland and Germany without expensive modifications as the latter two countries have different systems too.

A further problem faced by DB is that it will be operating 200-metre long trains joined together to form one unit. According to industry magazine RAIL, this concept has not yet been approved by the Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission (the body which determines technical standards for the Tunnel) as, under current rules, a door always needs to be opposite one of the Tunnel’s cross-passage exits.

In the past a number of readers have asked why, when the first ICE was exhibited at St Pancras, is it not possible to use that train rather than wait for expensive new rolling stock.

The fact is that DB’s ICE was not approved to use the Tunnel in 2010. So it did not operate into London under its own power. It was hauled by a couple of diesel locomotives (specially designed for Tunnel operation) from Calais through to St Pancras.

The news comes as a blow to UK rail agents. Says Michael Birtles, managing director of European Rail, “The news has come as a disappointment. We thought the arrival of ICE in London would mean we would be offering our business customers a really competitive product between London, Cologne and Frankfurt.”

Travellers can still book high-speed rail between London and Germany provided they take Eurostar to Brussels Midi and change platforms for DB’s onward ICE service. But making the connection in Brussels extends the overall journey time.

For more information visit bahn.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter


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  • The Channel Tunnel Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) has actually removed the requirements referred to in this article. From its 2011 report:

    “….. the IGC asked [Eurotunnel] to make the necessary changes to its operating rules to remove rules requiring compliance with particular fire protection standards for the design and performance of vehicles and their fittings, and for call buttons at the end of each coach, as these requirements are dealt with by the rolling stock TSIs. It was also decided that trains no longer had to have the ablility to be split.

    Finally, trains were no longer required to be of a particular length; have a through-corridor; and motor units at each end, and applicants were invited to propose such systems with a requisite risk assessment using EC Regulation 352/2009.”

    In September they removed 3 of the remaining requirements relating to smoke penetration, traction requirements and diesel traction, the only outstanding requirement now being 30 minutes running time while on fire (as opposed to 15 for other tunnels), this is also expected to be scrapped. Deutsche Bahn’s safety case is expected to be approved at the next IGC meeting in December.

  • Having just had the dubious pleasure of a return journey on an ICE Train from Brussels to Cologne I do not think the service from London to Frankfurt will ever be successful.

    On the outbound trip we had to change trains at Duren with the one from Cologne and on the return journey we swapped trains in Achen after an hour delay on the platform.The train then terminated in Brussels North making us 2 hours late for the Eurostar connection from Brussels Midi. We were informed by other passengers that this was a regular occurrence because the almighty Seimens cant get their ICE trains to run on the different voltages in Belgium & Germany.

    If I ever have to do that journey again it will be on a Thalys; at least it can make the through journey and they give complimentary meales and free WiFi!

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