Eurostar turns 20 with launch of new high-speed train

A Eurostar employee peers into the driver's cab of their new Siemens e320 train, unveiled during the company's 20th anniversary, at St Pancras station in central London, Nov 13, 2014. The new high-speed fleet due to hit the tracks next year. --
A Eurostar employee peers into the driver's cab of their new Siemens e320 train, unveiled during the company's 20th anniversary, at St Pancras station in central London, Nov 13, 2014. The new high-speed fleet due to hit the tracks next year. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Eurostar marked its 20th anniversary of running trains under the sea between Britain and continental Europe by unveiling Thursday a new high-speed fleet due to hit the tracks next year.

The e320 trains, built by German firm Siemens, can carry 900 passengers and run at up to 320 kilometres per hour, 20 kilometres faster than the current fleet.

Eurostar originally ordered 10 e320s four years ago, but at Thursday's launch at Saint Pancras International station in London, the company announced it was ordering a further seven.

The e320s - a variant of Siemens' Velaro model - can carry 20 percent more passengers than the current Eurostar trains, will have more space per seat and free wifi throughout.

The trains can run across different European signalling systems, opening up the potential for a whole range of new direct services between Britain and European cities.

Currently services link London with Paris and Brussels, with infrequent seasonal runs to the French Alps and the south of France.

But in May 2015 they will run year-round to Marseille on the French south coast, via Lyon and Avignon.

"You will be able to have breakfast in London and have dinner by the Mediterranean, which should be nice," Eurostar chief executive Nicolas Petrovic told AFP.

He said passengers would soon see a "complete transformation" of the service.

By the end of 2016, trains will run direct to Amsterdam, via Antwerp, Rotterdam and Schiphol airport.

"We are seeing a record demand for our services and the addition of new trains to our fleet will be key to our growth ambitions," said Petrovic.

Eurostar has carried 150 million passengers since services began on November 14, 1994.

The British government owns 40 percent of Eurostar, but last month launched the process for selling off its stake early next year.