The recent withdrawal and scrapping of the first generation of Eurostar trains comes 30 years since the contract for building them was awarded, and barely two years after the last refurbishing was completed. In fact, the international consortium’s tender was submitted in December 1988, with the contract awarded just a year later. The Channel Tunnel was a complicated project, and today, the UK has much less involvement in its operation and planning than ever before. Eurotunnel International Ltd., who run and manage the services and infrastructure, from London to Paris, on what we have termed HS1 is actually majority owned by France, Belgium and Canada. Though to be fair when HS1 was sold off, the UK Government retained freehold ownership of the land, and the infrastructure ownership was just a 30-year concession to a Canadian business and a pension fund.
The International Project Group (IPG) was set up by the three national railways of Britain, France and Belgium in 1988, and the year before, a grouping of some of the most famous names in the rail industry was set up to bid for the work of building the new trains. This joint venture was known as the Trans-Manche Super Train Group (TMSTG), and included:
However, in the late 1980s there was a lot of what we now describe as ‘churn’ in the rail industry, with numerous takeovers, and amalgamations, and British Rail Engineering Ltd left the consortium completely, as did Metro-Cammell. GEC merged with Alsthom and bought Metro-Cammell, and it was back in the consortium almost as soon as it left.
When the dust of all these changes had settled, the fixed formation trainsets were built at several locations in Belgium, Britain and France, between 1992 and 1993. Bombardier Eurorail, which had taken over the two Belgian companies built trailer cars, with Brush supplying traction motors, De Dietrich in France the powered trailer cars, and Faiveley Transport the pantographs and control systems. The newly merged GEC-Althom took on perhaps the lion’s share of the work in 13 different locations across France and England.
They were perhaps the most complex machines introduced for what was seen as a challenging operation. They were essentially based on the TGV Atlantique series for SNCF, but with 18 coaches placed between two power cars – but they are a pair of 10-coach half-trains connected back to back. They were designed to operate on three different electrification systems, and the power systems included some of the most cutting edge technology at the time. Design and manufacturing processes were also enhanced to take advantage of the then current ‘Lean Manufacturing’ techniques, in the UK, France and Belgium.
The GEC-Alsthom built TMSTs have an installed power on 25kV AC of 12.2 MW, and a complete train weighs in at 750 tonnes, and an overall length of 294 metres, carrying 750 passengers, and noted as Class 373 in Britain.
The new 16-coach e320 trainsets are derived from the Siemens ICE3 trains for Germany, from which Siemens developed the “Velaro” range, which has been used in a number of other countries, including Russia and Spain. The new Eurotunnel trains – noted as Class 374 in Britain – require a less complex power equipment and contact system, compared to the TMSTs, although much of the power technology is a development of that used previously. Although no longer needing to operate on 750v DC 3rd rail lines in Britain, they are still required to operate on 25kV AC and 1.5kV / 3kV DC voltage systems between London, Paris, Brussels and beyond. A key development in the power train has been the placing of the traction equipment beneath the vehicle floors, where on the original TMSTs the hardware was installed in the leading and trailing power cars, with the trains being essentially a ‘push-pull’ format.
These new cross channel trains are actually much more powerful than their predecessors, with a maximum rating of 16MW, delivered through 32 of the 64 axles, and carrying 900 passengers, with each car or coach being part of the power train and drive. The reason for the ability to increase passenger numbers is simply because the new trains have power converters carried below the vehicle floors, together with other changes in bogie and running gear design. Overall appearance is changed too, with styling – internal as well as the exterior – provided by the Italian design house ‘Pininfarina’, whilst the combination of aluminium and GRP mouldings are standard for coach bodies.
One of the main challenges faced by Eurostar occurred when the contract was placed with the builders. In 2009, Alstom launched a series of complaints and legal actions, claiming that the new Siemens design would breach Eurotunnel safety rules, but the courts rejected this. Alstom then lodged a complaint with the European Commission in 2010 over the tendering process, and in 2011, a last ditch claim was made through the UK High Court, where the company’s claim of “ineffective tendering process” was rejected. By 2012, Alstom called off all legal action against Eurostar, perhaps helped by SNCF taking up a contract option to buy another 40 of the high-speed double-deck trains. Then finally, the first of the new e320 series was unveiled in November 2014, and entered passenger service in 2015. On November 20th, one of the 16-car sets formed the 10.24 from London St Pancras to Paris Nord, and they have now been operational for almost 4 years.
Although these new Eurostar trains have had a difficult birth, with the parent operating company’s indication to extend its cross-channel services to Amsterdam and into Germany, their future looks promising. In fact, just over two years after the first e320 began operating, a new service from London to Amsterdam was started, with a further expansion of train numbers on the route in 2019.
Power equipment – state of the art technology
A key component of both designs of train has been the power conversion equipment. The TMST adopted high-power GTO thyristors for this key component, which was at that time the ‘state of the art’ in traction power technology, all of which were included in the ‘Common Bloc’ sub-assemblies. These were the heart of the TMST, and assembled at GEC-Alsthom’s Preston works, with the Trafford Park (Manchester) factory supplying the ‘plug-in’ semiconductor modules, with other components coming from GEC ALSTHOM factories at Belfort, Tarbes and Villeurbanne in France, and Charleroi in Belgium.
Naturally, the technology has moved on, and the new e320 trains use IGBT technology, together with the now commonplace asynchronous traction motors on multiple axles. The original TMST trains included the GEC-Alsthom designed units mounted – ‘Common Bloc’ and MPC’s – in the leading and trailing power cars. In contrast the new Siemens design has the equipment distributed under the floors of the 16 cars, allowing the extra passenger space. With a traction power of 16MW, Eurostar e320 can reach a maximum operating speed of 320km/h (200mph). It is provided with eight identical and independent traction converter units designed to operate on 25kV AC and 1.5kV / 3kV DC voltage systems, and delivering power to the 32 driven axles. On the roof, each train carries eight pantographs for the different power systems and contact line types in Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK.
One item missing from the new Eurostar trains is of course the need to collect power from the old Southern Region third rail contact system – no more 750V dc contact equipment, and no embarrassing chugging along from the Channel Tunnel to London. In the original build this was of course the only way to get from Waterloo to the Tunnel, but after HS1 was completed, the need was no longer there. The e320s do still have to cope with different voltages – 1.5kV/3kV dc, in Belgium and the Netherlands – alongside the almost universal 25kV a.c., but all contact systems are overhead.
Control and signalling
Back when the GEC-Alsthom TMST trains were being built, the use of on-board computers was still in the early days – much was often made in the press of the novelty of microprocessor control of traction motors, wheelslip and slide, which are now commonplace. The control systems now all encompass software and computer control of every aspect of the train’s operating functions, alongside the essential interactions with legacy lineside signalling adding to the complexity of the latest designs. The drive towards implementing ERTMS/ETCS across the principal main line and high-speed routes has been happening in a piecemeal manner – obviously perhaps – but it’s not in place everywhere. Different national systems have evolved and implemented systems that meet their own operating criteria and specifications, and the new Eurostar trains still have to have and meet these different requirements.
The train’s signalling, control and train protection systems include a Transmission Voie-Machine (TVM) signalling system, Contrôle de Vitesse par Balises (KVB) train protection system, Transmission Beacon Locomotive (TBL) train protection system, Runback Protection System (RPS), European Train Control System (ETCS), Automatic train protection (ATP) system, Reactor Protection System (RPS) and Sibas 32 train control system.
All of this technology is plugged into the control panels and displays at the driver’s desk, whilst concurrently assessing, evaluating and storing information about each aspect of the train’s performance. Real time information is passed back to both the train operating and control centres, whether in Paris, Brussels or London, and a log of any and all messages about the condition of moving, and some non-moving components is logged on-board and transmitted to the maintenance centres.
Bogies and drives
Back in the 1990s, the original TMST sets were equipped with Jacobs bogies shared between adjacent carriages, as was the practice on the TGV sets from which they were derived. The coaches next to the power cars and the two central coaches (coaches 9 and 10 in a full-length set) were not articulated.
The e320 (Class 374) bogies are essentially the SF 500 design, used on DB’s ICE3 trains, and adapted for either driven or non driven (trailer) bogie operation, with two bogies per coach. The bogie frame itself is an ‘H’ frame design with traction motors mounted laterally on motor bogies, driving the motored axles through a spiral toothed coupling. The now well-proven air suspension system has been adopted for secondary suspension.
The axles, suspension and bearings are fitted with a range of sensors, all needing to be cabled up to the vehicle body. The cables on the bogie are initially routed to a form of terminal box in the centre of the bogie, and from there are routed up to the vehicle, suitably contained and protected from any environmental damage. Modern systems such as those used on these trains are able to provide diagnostic information, and to some degree early detection of impending operational problems.
Much more than a hi-tech equivalent of the old wheeltapper, using the back of his hand to detect a hot running axle bearing. For instance, the sensors on the e320 bogies are an integrated system to monitor wheelsets, bearings, suspension and damper performance, and the overall condition of the bogie. Both powered and trailing SF 500 bogies include mainly identical components, which makes for ease of replacement, maintenance and repair. All of the bogie design and successful operation is attributable to the ICE train project, and development through ICE1, ICE2, and the most recent ICE3 trains.
The bogies also carry the rail level braking equipment, and the Eurostar e320 is equipped with three separate technologies – a regenerative braking system, a rheostatic brake system, and a pneumatic brake system. In the original TMST sets (Class 373), the traction motors on the powered axles provide the rheostatic braking with conventional clasp brakes operating on the wheel tread. The non-powered axles have four ventilated disc brakes per axle.
There has been significant progress in the development of braking systems through a wide range of options, including the use of different materials in the brake discs, and magnetic track brakes, which were used on the DB ICE3 trains. But high-speed stopping demands a sophisticated, multi-layered braking system to ensure that passenger safety is maintained, and the technology used is another story.
Bodyshells, passenger facilities, and information systems
GEC’s TMST original trainsets were built in two forms: long and short. 31 trainsets were long, with 18 trailers between two power units, whilst the remaining 7 were short, with only 14 trailers. The short trainsets were intended for services north of London, to destinations such as Manchester and Glasgow, where platform lengths are insufficient to accommodate longer trains.
TMST coach bodies were made from a combination of traditional steel, aluminium, GRP and composite materials. The vehicle dynamics have changed dramatically, with higher speeds demanding changes in structure, greater strength, but lighter weight, to take the stresses demanded by modern train operations. This was the case with the original TMST trains, and as can be seen from the images, the nose sections were particularly suitable for the use of GRP and composite materials. In terms of material, little has changed in the structures, although the e320 series makes much more use of aluminium, and the aerodynamics have changed significantly, as a result of the advances in technology.
Construction of the original TMST trains was carried out at GEC-Alsthom’s Washwood Heath plant in Britain, La Rochelle and Belfort in France, and at the Bruges works of Brugeoise et Nivelles BN (now Bombardier).
The new “Velaro” based e320 trains were built from 2011 at Siemens’ works at Krefeld, near Dusseldorf, followed by testing at the company’s Wildenrath location. Whilst the new trains were due to enter service in 2014, due to delays in gaining full TSI approval, the ‘rollout’ to operational service did not take place until 2015.
Overall, seating has increased from 794 to 902, with facilities at the seats that allow tarvellers to plug in to charge mobile phones, make use of USB ports, and of course on-board Wi-Fi systems. We tend to demand a little more these days than a newspaper (in 1st class) and a cup of earl grey, as we stay connected to business, family and friends, wherever we are, on the move or not. Passenger information systems have evolved to meet the changing needs of the travelling public too – less on-board passenger information displays perhaps, more “download the app” and check for yourself. That said, getting information to and from the moving train is a vastly different world of track to train communications compared to the original setup.
As noted previously, the original TMST trainsets came in two kinds: long and short. 31 trainsets are long, with 18 trailers between two power units. The remaining 7 are short, with only 14 trailers. The short trainsets intended for services north of London, other than a brief spell to help the newly privatised GNER train company out, were never fully used, and were later transferred to France for other duties. It had been suggested that a reason for not running the services beyond London was down to the ‘crude design’ of British Rail overhead contact lines, and routes across London. Another reason advanced was the growing numbers of budget airlines. The idea that the overhead contact system was less sophisticated is unlikely – especially in view of the operation of high-speed “Pendolino”, tilting trains on the main lines. The complexity of finding a route across or around London, along with the lack of investment was probably the most obvious reason.
The TMST’s primary operation was of course to run through the Channel Tunnel between London, Paris and Brussels. However, whilst in France and Belgium, high-speed electrified routes were well used, in Britain, between the Channel Tunnel and London, only the existing 3rd rail electrification was actually on the ground. A high-speed (HS1) was being planned, but as a temporary measure, the powerful new TMST sets simply trundled across the 60 or so miles to a temporary “International Station” at London’s Waterloo.
In contrast to the TMSTs, the new e320 series trains were planned to develop the core services from London St Pancras, to Paris Gare du Nord, and Brussels Midi. To meet anticipated competition from DB in particular, Eurostar’s new trains were also pencilled in to provide services to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Cologne, and other destinations in France. The original TMST sets were not capable of running under the wires into the Netherlands, and the new trains certainly give Eurostar that option, and even more flexibility.
Modifications and upgrades
In 2004/5, only 22 of the original TMST sets were in daily use, and the interiors were looking jaded, and so Eurostar decided to provide these ageing speed demons with a new interior look and colour scheme, but that was not the last change. As the original TMST sets were nearing the end of their working life, around the time that Eurostar was picking the supplier for its new generation trains, another refurbishment was planned. This was a slightly more extensive update, beyond new colours and styling changes, upgrades to traction systems were proposed, to get the trains to work operate beyond 2020. These final upgrades were delayed, instead of 2012, the first revamped TMST did not appear until 2015.
Both of these upgrades could be construed as papering over the cracks, especially looking around at how traction drive technology, and indeed the whole technology of the train had developed since they were built, it was perhaps their last hurrah. The new e320 series are state of the art, both in technology, aerodynamics, construction and operation, and were quickly going to replace the pioneers on these international services.
End of the Line
In 2010, the replacement trains ordered by Eurostar of course led to the withdrawal of the original TMST sets. They have had almost 27 years of international service, since first taking to the rails in 1993, and 21 years before the new e320 series started operations in 2014.
In 2016, Eurostar sent the first of the TMST (Class 373) trains for scrap at Kingsbury, by European Metal Recycling (EMR), but by early 2017 the exact number of sets to be scrapped had not been confirmed. The working theory then was that between 17 and 22 of the TMST, Class 373 trains would be scrapped. That said, a small number of the original trains were set to be refurbished, complete with Eurostar’s new livery, and reclassified as e300. Amongst the reasons for this, one source noted that because the new e320 series trains are not fitted with the UK’s AWS magnets, they can’t work into Ashford, or apparently, Avignon in France. Ah, well, off to the scrapyard for the others.
In December 2016 the 3rd Class 373 had arrived at Kingsbury, to be scrapped by European Metal Recycling, and re-use was now out of the question, but at least some of the materials were being recovered and recycled. In fact 50 of the original 77 Class 373 TMST still operate Eurostar services, with 27 withdrawn between December 2014 and January 2018. Of these, 16 were scrapped by EMR, one had been sent to the National Railway Museum in York, and two retained in France at the Romilly Technical Centre, with two others being sent to the National College for High-Speed Rail at Doncaster and Birmingham in England. At least one of their number are still awaiting their fate in a siding as the vegetation starts to make inroads into the structure – along with a liberal amount of graffiti. A sad end for a ground breaking high-speed train design, though not as sad as at least one set, one of the refurbished sets, which was – and still is crumbling to dust at Valenciennes.
Here’s the next generation:
- British Rail Class 374 (Wikipedia)
- British Rail Class 373
- Siemens Velaro Platform
- GEC Alsthom (UK) Ltd: involvement in the production of Transmanche Super Trains TMST for the Channel Tunnel (The National Archive)