German trains can use Channel tunnel: Eurotunnel

PARIS (AFP) - Germany's rail company Deutsche Bahn has been given the green light for its passenger trains to use the Channel tunnel between France and England, Eurotunnel said on Friday.

After three years of studies, the commission in charge of tunnel security has given Deutsche Bahn permission to operate its trains in the Channel tunnel, a statement from the operator of the tunnel rail link said.

"Twenty years after its opening, the public authorities are finally opening the Channel tunnel to all," said Mr Jacques Gounon, Eurotunnel chief executive officer, in a statement.

He added that the move marked "enormous progress for millions of passengers in northern Europe". For its part Deutsche Bahn "is delighted with the announcement made by Eurotunnel," a company spokesman told AFP.

The date when the first German passenger trains will travel to London "depends on the delivery by Siemens of the ICE 3 trains", he added, referring to a group of high speed trains.

But the opening of competition between rail operators through the Channel tunnel will not likely take place any time soon, with first service projected to start in 2016.

The German rail operator first made an official request to use the Channel tunnel in July 2011, when it had hoped to establish regular service with London from 2013.

At present, the only passenger trains allowed to use the Channel tunnel belong to Eurostar, a subsidiary of the French rail operator SNCF.

This decision "will allow for a considerable boost in exchanges between Great Britain and northern Europe", Eurotunnel said.

Eurotunnel expects to see an additional three to four million rail passengers each year.

About 20 million people crossed the Channel last year with the group celebrating its 300 millionth passenger ever in October.

The tunnel, which remained an unfulfilled dream for centuries, began carrying passengers in 1994.