Eurostar to Flood London-Paris With New Trains as Seats Scarce

Eurostar to Flood London-Paris With New Trains as Seats Scarce

Passenger numbers rose 3 percent to 2.8 million in the three months through June as growth resumed following a flat first quarter, when a fire shut the Channel Tunnel and an attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine clipped demand.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Eurostar International Ltd. said it will introduce its first new trains for two decades en masse in December to help cope with soaring demand that’s left every seat full on the busiest London-Paris services this summer.

All 10 e320 expresses ordered from Siemens AG in 2010 have now been handed over from the manufacturer’s plant in Krefeld, Germany, and several will now be introduced at the same time rather than over a number of months, Chief Executive Officer Nicolas Petrovic said Tuesday in an interview in London.

“We’ll have a critical mass of trains quite quickly,” Petrovic said after Eurostar posted record quarterly passenger figures. “We’d like to have as many as possible before next summer. The problem at the moment is that our trains are full.”

Passenger numbers rose 3 percent to 2.8 million in the three months through June as growth resumed following a flat first quarter, when a fire shut the Channel Tunnel and an attack on the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine clipped demand. While a weaker euro is encouraging Britons to travel to the continent, sales are strong across all sectors, Petrovic said.

“The French market is definitely getting better,” the CEO said, adding that the impact of government initiatives aimed at helping business is “filtering through,” while the strong pound has not hurt inbound U.K. visits as much as feared. “We were expecting the leisure market to suffer, but it’s still OK. And the American market is coming back after Charlie Hebdo.”

Marseille Boost

Bookings on Eurostar’s 6 1/2 hours service to Marseille, which began May 1, have reached 88,000, with trains typically running with 500-600 passengers, or as much as 80 percent full.

The 200-mile-an-hour e320s will seat 900 people, one-fifth more than the current Eurostars based on Alstom SA’s TGV design. The Siemens units have bigger seats, free Wi-Fi and interiors from Italian auto-stylist Pininfarina. A follow-on order for seven more sets worth about $600 million was placed in November.

Eurostar is also refurbishing 14 of the Alstom trains, with the first re-entering service in August and the rest due for overhaul in the next 2 1/2 years. The interiors of the vehicles, renamed e300s, will be virtually identical to the new e320s, and it’s possible some of the 10 other classic sets will be upgraded to prolong their life and meet capacity needs, Petrovic said.

Eurostar is adding passengers at a time when cross-Channel travel has “never been so competitive,” the executive said, with long-distance buses and the Paris-based BlaBlaCar ride-sharing service competing at the budget end of the market and low-cost airlines led by EasyJet Plc and network carriers including British Airways also “fighting hard.”

The introduction of services to Amsterdam has slipped into 2017 from December 2016 as work continues on establishing a safety case in the Netherlands, where Eurostar hasn’t operated before, and on gaining timetabling paths, Petrovic said.

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