Euro-train is unable to take the British strain: Julian Nundy in Paris reports on Eurostar's teething troubles with the Network SouthEast track

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The Independent Online
THREE HUNDRED and ninety-four metres long and carrying 794 passengers, it slows down and may even stop when it reaches the Garden of England. Eurostar, the new high-speed train built for the Channel Tunnel, is on its way to bringing a touch of Jules Verne to the world of Dickens.

The gleaming white, blue and yellow train, with two locomotives hauling 16 carriages, was unveiled as news began to emerge of British Rail's progress in adapting Eurostar's foreign nuts and bolts to the rigorous standards of Network SouthEast.

As Eurostar surfaces in Kent, a delicate metal shoe drops to pick up current from the Network SouthEast third rail. But the train's computers find power cuts too much to take as it crosses points, level crossings and other breaks and, the stories went, in namby-pamby Latin style, the engine keeps cutting out.

Such mishaps allegedly occurred during secret night-time trials - when the added challenge of trailing the 8:10 from Orpington was missing and when all clean-living cows that could be on the line were presumably tucked up in their fields.

Humbug, said the man from SNCF, the French rail network, in the huge hangar in St Denis in the Paris suburbs where the train was on display. Yet again the British press was seizing on details, picking on teething problems which would soon be ironed out, he said. The reports 'sound pretty plausible to me', said a man from British Rail, apparently unmoved by French solidarity.

Shuttle trains carrying vehicles are expected to start moving through the tunnel next April, ahead of the formal inauguration in May. In June, said BR - in July, said the SNCF - Eurostar will link Paris and London for the first time. Eventually, the plans are to have some 15 return services a day between the two capitals.

Others will run between London and Brussels. British Rail has ordered 11 full-length Eurostars and seven shorter versions for travel between the continent and other British cities. Belgian railways will operate four while the SNCF has ordered 16.

Eurostar is designed in consultation with the British, French and Belgian rail systems, with three screens on the driver's panel giving signal information for each country. The train is the creation of GEC-Alsthom, the Anglo-French conglomerate whose French partner built the original Train a Grande Vitesse, or TGV, now in its 13th year of operation.

Until the advent of a high-speed line at the British end, the Paris-London run is expected to take three hours, a slightly faster city-to-city time than the same journey by air.

Although the pricing policy has not been announced, officials said tickets would cost much the same as the plane.

In France, the train will run at speeds of up to 300km (187 miles) an hour; in the tunnel, it will slow to 160km, also its maximum speed on the British side.

That is, of course, when there are no leaves on the line, when there is no wrong sort of snow, when there are no frozen points . . .

(Photograph omitted)

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