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There was a time when the prospect of Germans crossing the English Channel at speed might have been a source of some alarm.
But today rail passengers on both sides of the water will be celebrating Germany’s Deutsche Bahn receiving permission to run its 200mph trains at ‘blitz’ or lightning speed through the Channel Tunnel.
It will get travellers from Berlin to London in four and a half hours – and vice versa.
Experts predict the extra trains and competition from the nation most renowned for making its railways run on time will result in cheaper fares and a better deal for passengers.
It will add four million passengers to the 10 million who already use the rail-link ‘Chunnel’.
The decision follows three years of negotiation and a trial run of a 200mph German bullet train in October 2010.
The aim is to run regular services between London’s St Pancras station and Frankfurt in Germany, as well as Amsterdam in Holland.
Experts say the competition could also mean lower fares with a one way trip to Germany costing as little as £39 to £49.
The decision was welcomed by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin who is in favour of the move.
Announcing the new deal, Eurotunnel said: ‘After three years of detailed study, the Intergovernmental Commission has granted Deutsche Bahn an operating certificate to run passenger services through the Channel Tunnel.’
It said: ’We believe that this long awaited decision will considerably enhance exchanges between the United Kingdom and northern Europe (Germany, Holland) and will over time add between 3 and 4 million new passengers per year to the 10 million already using the existing high speed passenger services.’
A Eurotunnel spokesman said: ‘This new chapter requires no additional investment as adjustments to the timetable and modifications to the paths through the Tunnel will suffice to accommodate the new traffic.’
He said: ‘This increase in the choice of services offered by railway operators is a measure of the improvement in the transport sector as it brings major benefits to passengers.
Jacques Gounon, chairman and chief executive officer of Groupe Eurotunnel SA said: ‘Twenty years after the start of commercial services, the authorities have finally opened the Channel Tunnel to all.
‘This is wonderful news for the millions of passengers in northern Europe who can now use this most environmentally friendly means of transport to travel to London’.
The Germans first made their pitch for a cross-channel train in October 2010 when they sent a trial 200-mph German bullet-train on a slow-speed dry run trial for a new direct cross-channel link.
The German ‘Inter City Express’ train bearing the initial letters ‘ICE’ adorned as a red, white and blue Union Flag, aims to replace passenger jets as the main transport to Germany’s financial capital and the Rhineland.
The plan is for three services a day in each direction – each carrying 888 passengers in 16 coaches – on a new generation German cross-channel bullet train that will put the people of Cologne closer in travelling time to the British capital than they are to their own capital, Berlin.
In Brussels, the trains will split, with eight carriages carrying 444 passengers heading to Rotterdam and then Amsterdam.
The other eight carriages will head to Cologne and then Frankfurt.
Deutsche Bahn officials said the journey time from Cologne to London would be under four hours – less than the time it takes to get to Berlin, around four and a half hours: ‘Passenger can choose which capital they prefer – yours or ours,’ said one DB official.
It also mean business travellers and tourists can relax for longer in their seats or work via wi-fi rather than enduring the hassle of airline check-in, security and trips to and from the airport.
It is the latest step in the plan to create high speed rail links across Britain and Europe – from Edinburgh to Madrid and Manchester to Marseilles.
But while trains will hit 200mph on the Continent, tunnels on the UK side of the Channel mean high speed trains are restricted in many places to 140mph.
The German challenger was the first all-new train to use the Tunnel since it opened.
German railway giant Deutsche Bahn has already been busy buying up a number of UK train operators and has now set its sight on taking on the airlines and arch rival Eurostar to win passenger services between the UK and the Continent.
It aims to slash the train travelling time from Central London to Frankfurt, nicknamed ‘Bankfurt’ in Germany because it is the nation’s major financial centre, from around six hours to less than five hours.
This competes with the door-to-door four and a half hours needed to fly there, once travel to the airport, check-in time and the 1 hour 30 minute flight time are put together.
Launching the plan at St Pancras in October 2010, Deutsche Bahn boss Dr Ruediger Grube said it marked ‘ a new era’ of train travel adding: ‘Europe is becoming a small place.
‘Every day there are around 50 flights between the Greater London area and the region of Frankfurt and the Rhineland.’
Until now that was out of reach of the railways, he said: ‘But times change. Thanks to new railway lines, new high speed trains, and new transport policies, we will be able to share in that market.’
Mr Grube said: ‘Three pairs of trains will connect Frankfurt and London via Cologne, Brussels, and Lille, with one train running in each direction in the morning, at lunchtime, and in the evening.
‘This will also be the first time that Amsterdam and Rotterdam have a direct connection with London.’
The high speed German-built Inter City Express (ICE) trains have to pass stringent safety tests to pass through the Channel Tunnel – including evacuations.
Their arrival nevertheless highlights how far international relations have moved.
Some 73 years ago, at the height of the Battle of Britain, the narrow strip of water comprising the Channel was all that separated Britain from German invasion.
Today the nation which was defeated is now running much of Britain’s railways.
Last year state-owned Deutsche Bahn said it would delay the launch of direct train services between London and Frankfurt to at least 2016, compared with initial plans to start the route in 2013.
Cross-Channel train services are currently operated by Eurostar, which is majority-owned by French state-owned SNCF. Eurotunnel gets a fee for each train passing through the tunnel linking Dover to Calais.
The announcement comes as ministers are embroiled in a ‘jobs for British workers’ row after confirming that Germany’s Siemens had won a controversial £1.6bn contract to build trains for the Thameslink line.
The decision is a huge blow to Derby-based Bombardier, one of three major employers in the city and the last British-based train-maker.
Canadian-owned Bombardier had warned ministers it needed the Thameslink contract to safeguard the future of the factory – which survived a zeppelin airship raid in 1916.
It announced 1,400 job cuts at Derby plant when it was first announced that it had lost the deal.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘This will be a death blow to Derby’s economy’.
– Daily Mail