PARIS/LONDON (Reuters) - A row erupted on Thursday over the choice of trains for Channel Tunnel routes as France challenged a decision by Eurostar to switch to a German manufacturer for its next generation of high-speed trains.
Eurostar, which operates passenger services between London, Paris and Brussels, said Siemens would supply 10 trains as part of a 700 million pound investment in Eurostar’s fleet.
Until now French rival Alstom, manufacturer for France’s high-speed TGV network, has built the Eurostar trains.
Alstom and the French government immediately condemned the decision and said safety rules in the tunnel did not currently allow the Siemens trains to be used there.
Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said in a joint statement they were “amazed” by the move and called on Eurostar to change the terms of its contract tender to conform with current security rules.
They said France would not accept operating conditions which did not at least improve safety in the 54km (33 miles) tunnel, which suffered three fires between 1996 and 2008.
The statement did not say in what respect Siemens’ trains were alleged to differ from the safety requirements.
Eurostar was not immediately available for comment.
A Siemens spokesman said: “Siemens, as a representative of industry, is not involved in the decision making of the authorities, so we cannot comment.”
Eurostar did not disclose financial details of the deal.
Eurostar, which is owned by French state rail operator SNCF, Belgium’s SNCB and British government-owned LCR, said the capital investment in its fleet, including the refurbishment of existing trains, would be funded by cash and bank financing.
Shares in Siemens and Alstom fell around 1 percent, underperforming a fractionally weaker European market.
Reporting by Tim Hepher, Caroline Jacobs, Jonathan Gould, Rhys Jones; Editing by Victoria Bryan and David Hulmes