Commenting on the opinion of European Railway Agency issued today on Safety Requirements for Passenger trains in the Channel Tunnel, European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas, responsible for Transport, said: "This is a significant opinion from the European Railway Agency, which should pave the way for more competition in the Channel Tunnel, without any reduction in safety standards."
Vice President Kallas said: "This is an important step in the right direction. The European Railway Agency has made it clear that passenger trains, other than those already circulating, should be able to operate in the Channel tunnel provided that there is an equivalent high level of safety and that all EU safety requirements are met. That is good for passengers who stand to benefit from more and better quality high speed rail services, good for the environment, and good for the industry."
The Channel Tunnel’s safety rules have been under close scrutiny since last Autumn, when it emerged that Eurostar planned to order German-built high-speed trains from Siemens, which have motors with distributed power (electric motors situated under the carriage floors) and Deutsche Bahn announced its intention to run its own ICE trains (shorter than 375 metres) in the tunnel .
Eurostar's existing passenger trains - the only type currently allowed to use the undersea tunnel - have all their motors and electrical equipment concentrated in power cars at either end of the trains and are over 375 metres long.
The Franco-British Intergovernmental Commission, which is the specific safety authority for the Channel Tunnel under EU law, requested the European Railway Agency, which oversees application of European rail safety standards, to issue a technical opinion on the advisability of modifying existing Channel Tunnel safety rules which prohibit trains with electric motors situated under the carriage floors (distributed power) to use the tunnel and prescribe a specific train length to facilitate evacuation in case of fire.
"I hope that the Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) will now consider the opinion of the European Railway Agency and move swiftly to modify safety rules which are seen to be outdated".
"Europe needs a healthy rail sector where real competition can thrive. At the heart of the Transport 2050 paper to be published next week will be a drive to make sure that as far as is possible all unnecessary technical barriers that prevent competition in the rail sector are removed."
Significant points to note in the European Railway Agency opinion are:
-On Distributed Power, there is no technical justification for the IGC to exclude a priori trains with distributed power which conform to EU safety and interoperability prescriptions.
-On length of trains, it is not for the IGC to impose a requirement based on the features of existing trains and a single evacuation scenario in case of fire. It is for the railway undertaking wishing to operate in the tunnel to provide an evacuation scenario within its safety management system, the latter to be approved by the IGC as part of the EU safety certification process.
For full details of the ERA opinion see: http://www.era.europa.eu/Pages/Home.aspx
What happens next?
The IGC will now have to consider the technical opinion of ERA and act accordingly. If it does not intend to modify the requirements that ERA finds unjustified it has to give additional evidence to explain its position, and a new assessment by ERA and the Commission may prove necessary.