Update 12.10.2023 – this will not now be called Mobico, but a new brand called Evolyn but with the same backers – see Sky News and Railway Gazette. The Evolyn website is very sketchy. Alstom – the supposed manufacturer of the trains – has said nothing yet. So – honestly – I do not believe this, and all I wrote about it in July still stands.
The FT reported a couple of days ago that Mobico (the new name for National Express) wants to run trains through the Channel Tunnel, rivalling Eurostar, and to do that by 2025 using new trains built by Alstom. Mobico’s share price is up this morning based on the news.
The chances this happens, the way the FT outlines it?
Before you come to anything else, it starts with the trains themselves.
Eurostar isn’t going to sell any of its trains to a rival, and DB’s ICE 406s are too unreliable – and even then I am not sure DB would sell them either. So going down the route of second hand trains is not viable.
So it has to be new trains, as the FT piece states.
The fire regulations in the Channel Tunnel are stringent. So far only three models of passenger train have been OKed to run through it – the Alstom-designed TMST (the original Eurostar), and the Siemens ICE 406 and Velaro (the new Eurostar).
The problem is that only one of those designs – the Velaro – is still manufactured.
So if you wanted a pre-tested design, you’d go for that, rather than for something built by Alstom. But the problem is that Siemens’s plants have a massive task – building DB’s ICE 408 fleet (that’s a Velaro design). 90 of those are going to need a good few years to build, so bang goes your 2025 deadline. Order now from Siemens and maybe you get a new train through the tunnel by 2028. But more like 2030.
But what about Alstom – with whom Mobico are supposedly in contact?
Alstom has been focusing on it’s TGV M design in Europe – essentially an upgraded TGV double deck design. A single deck variant has been made for the US market – that I used for the mock-up above. There is no fundamental reason why you could not build a TGV M to be compatible with the Channel Tunnel fire regulations, but so far this has not been done – and you would need 12 months to get a design approved.
Alstom’s production lines are full building more than 100 TGV M trains for SNCF, with the delivery of those spread until 2034.
Is Mobico going to manage to muscle its way in there, ahead of SNCF? Or Alstom somehow up its production? I doubt it. Mobico could likely get a Alstom New Pendolino based design off a production line sooner, but those are max speed 250km/h rather than 300km/h, and have never been approved for France, let alone for the Channel Tunnel.
So new trains from Alstom before the end of the decade… looks like a long shot.
There might be other ways to make it happen sooner. Renfe has been exploring whether its Talgo-built AVE 106 trains might eventually be able to be used through the Channel Tunnel. With 30 of these on order for Renfe, and 10 more for Le Train, perhaps some running by 2027 or 2028 might be possible. Alternatively an order of some Frecciarossa 1000 trains from Hitachi could work, as orders for those from Trenitalia are drawing to a close, although I do not know if those have ever been built with Channel Tunnel fire regulations in mind. But probably with Talgo or Hitachi, Mobico might manage to make a start sooner than going with Alstom. But even then probably not in 2025.
And as if that is not all complex enough, I have not even touched upon paths (complex into Paris Nord), and terminal capacity due to onerous border checks post-Brexit (complex at St Pancras). Neither insurmountable, but not at all easy.
So there you go. There are not going to be Mobico trains through the Channel Tunnel in 2025. And not before 2030 if they order from Alstom, perhaps a little sooner if they order from someone else. And the other problems are overcome too.
This isn’t easy.