German rail operator Deutsche Bahn is to send a test train through the Channel Tunnel this year, the group's CEO confirmed last week.

Rudiger Grube said that Deutsche Bahn will send one of its ultra-modern ICE3 trains through the tunnel as part of "preparations for a possible train service to London."

A successful test could mean that passengers will be able to travel by high-speed train between Britain and Germany, in addition to the services already offered by Eurostar to Paris and Brussels.

Deutsche Bahn has already hinted at operating services between London and Germany using the Channel Tunnel several times, but regulatory requirements prevented operators other than Eurostar from running their own services until earlier this year.

Now, it is investing in new trains which meet the strict safety standards trains require to operate underneath the Channel and is viewed as the most likely company to mount a challenge to Eurostar, which has been the sole passenger train operator for 15 years.

Although Deutsche Bahn is currently the subject of considerable negative press in Germany following an air conditioning failure which left eight people hospitalized due to heat exhaustion, its ICE trains are generally regarded among the most modern and comfortable in the world and also form the backbone of China's new high-speed rail fleet.

The new ICE3 trains, due for delivery in late 2011, are ten percent more energy efficient than their predecessors, lighter on the interior and 40 percent more spacious, according to Deutsche Bahn, as well as being capable of reaching speeds of 320 km/h in Germany.

The current trains used by Eurostar, which are based on the French TGV, have a maximum speed of 300km/h on the high-speed lines.