Eurostar dashes to rail speed record of 208mph

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The Independent Online

The people of Kent have never seen anything like it.

Familiar with commuting at 30mph on good days, they saw a train streak past yesterday at more than 200mph. Even the Kentish cattle, used to the sedate speed of Connex rattlers, noticed the difference and bolted as the 600-ton monster thundered by.

A 14-coach Eurostar, with 100 engineers, rail executives and journalists on board, was setting a new record speed for a British train and it did so with 46mph to spare.

Much to the amazement of motorists driving at motorway speeds along adjacent roads, the train flashed past, reaching 208mph twice. The old record of 162mph was set in 1979 by the quintessentially British Advanced Passenger Train. This was so advanced that it could not work safely and never came into service. The French designed and built yesterday's train.

The dash was part of tests on the high-speed rail link between the Channel Tunnel and Fawkham in Kent. The route, due to open in September, will run at a more placid 186mph, but will still cut 20 minutes off the trip from London to the Continent. The trains will use the new link up to Fawkham but rejoin the old line to crawl into London. It is hoped that by 2007 Eurostar trains will run on dedicated track all the way to St Pancras, London.

Test runs yesterday started late - but this time it was not the fault of the railway. Helicopters taking the press from London were delayed by clouds - a routinely eccentric explanation for Connex passengers. Eurostar executives were uneasy as the train stopped just outside Ashford. Unlike the local commuter services, though, it was a mere two-minute pause before speeding up to 186mph, in itself a record in Britain. On the return journey, the train reached 208mph.

Alan Pears, 35, the train driver, said: "To get past 200mph in Kent where I live and see the countryside I know flashing past was really something special." Mr Pears said he could have gone faster if he'd been allowed to.

But despite yesterday's ballyhoo, a French train still holds the world speed record - 320mph, achieved in 1990. It seems even more churlish to point out that Eurostars have run at 186mph in France since the tunnel opened in 1994 and that when the fast link to London is finished by 2007 it will be 13 years late.