200mph trains included in £700m Eurostar investment

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The Independent Travel

Channel Tunnel rail company Eurostar today announced a £700 million investment in 200mph new trains and refurbishment of existing rolling stock.

Eurostar, which operates high-speed services to Paris and Brussels from London's St Pancras station, will buy 10 German-built e320 trains which will carry 900 passengers.

This is a 20% capacity increase on the existing trains which will be overhauled and refurbished.

The arrival of the new trains, built by Siemens, could see London-Paris journey times reduced to just over two hours. The trains will be able to run across the European high-speed network.

French rail company SNCF is one of the three shareholders which own Eurostar and the decision to opt for German-built trains will anger the French government which had been hoping for the contract to be awarded to French company Alstom.

The Eurostar announcement was welcomed by Transport Secretary Philip Hammond who earlier this week announced further details of the £33 billion UK high-speed rail network - known as High Speed 2 (HS2).

Mr Hammond hopes work can start on HS2 by 2015 and studies are going on to see if the new network can be joined to the London to Folkestone Channel Tunnel link, now known as HS1.

HS2 would initially run to Birmingham and Mr Hammond this week signalled his preference for a Y-shaped network north of Birmingham, with separate legs from the West Midlands to Manchester and Leeds.

Mr Hammond said: "The transformation of Eurostar into a single entity has created a company well placed to attract the resources and investment needed to deliver a world class service.

"That's good news for passengers but also for the UK taxpayer as well, who owns 40% of Eurostar International."

Mr Hammond said a possible joining of HS2 to HS1 would create "a truly international service for passengers and business".

Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic said: "Over the last 16 years Eurostar has revolutionised travel between London, Paris and Brussels but our sights are now set on expanding our business across Europe.

"The transformation of Eurostar into a stand-alone business and the major capital investment announced today is a mark of our growth ambitions for the future. The combination of our new state-of-the-art trains and our refurbished fleet will assure our position as the leading rail operator between the UK and the continent and make us the obvious choice for short-haul European travel."

Snow getting into the works of trains caused a number of breakdowns of Eurostar services last Christmas, with hundreds of passengers stuck in the tunnel for many hours in appalling conditions.

All Eurostar services had to be suspended for three days in the busy run-up to Christmas, wrecking thousands of customers' travel plans.