Light at the end of the tunnel

The reason for the follow-on order was because Eurostar was initially unsure of how good the trains would actually be. Each train, for example, has capacity for 150 more passengers than the older trains, and their reliability is much higher (as you would expect). By mid-summer, the new trains had proved their reliability. 

Eurostar says component redundancy is key to achieving such a low failure rate. Essentially, if a component fails, power can still be fed through the trains.

Unlike the Class 373s, the e320s use distributed power. “Nearly every new train coming onto the market features distributed power - the Pendolinos, for instance,” the company explains. 

It takes up less space, and means more passenger capacity. Power systems can be moved underneath the cars, or placed on the roof. And it’s one of the ways the company has been able to add an extra 150 seats on each train.

The ‘373s’ had power cars at each end, but the first third of each trailer vehicle also contained power equipment. So on an 18-car ‘Three Capitals’ set, two and two-thirds vehicles were unavailable for passenger use. On a 16-car Class 374, every vehicle carries passengers. All but the first foot of the vehicle behind the cab is used for a technical area for the signalling systems and equipment for the train safety functions. 

“When the ‘373s’ entered service, things such as electrical cables running down the length of trains going through tunnels wasn’t allowed. But modern cable insulation is much better - nobody worries about that sort of thing any more. Changing rules and advances in technology have made distributed power the preferred option.”

Distributed power was being used back in the early 1960s. As an aside, a 16-vehicle e320 has eight pantographs. Four are for DC operation only, on 3kV and 1,500V, in France and Holland. 

When operating on 1,500V, all four DC pantographs are used, while when running on 3kV a ‘374’ uses just two, with a cable through. The other two can then be used as back-up. The other four pantographs offer a similar arrangement for AC operation, at 25kV.

Eurostar had already committed to refurbishing the older fleet by the time it placed the order. It had already committed to the refurbishment. The design for the refurbishment had preceded the new trains. However, all but eight of the ‘373s’ will be removed from traffic.

Being built to European UIC gauge, the ‘374s’ are more spacious, although not every seat in Standard Class lines up with a window.

There is more luggage space on the trains, a direct result of Eurostar’s decision to order UIC-gauge trains. It also means that the luggage areas fitted to the ‘373s’ have been lost, which releases almost a quarter of a vehicle for passenger space, while luggage is now closer to the passengers. 

Information screens are fitted to keep passengers informed on the journey’s progress, as well as information related to the location of items in the saloon. The screens are on angled mounts in the ceiling, but do not impinge on headroom. 

Because of their UIC-gauge design, the ‘374s’ are taller than conventional UK loading-gauge trains, which adds to the feeling of space. 

Passenger feedback to Eurostar has highlighted that the lighting on-board the ‘374s’ is perhaps a little too bright for people’s tastes, so the operator is toning that down slightly. This will be achieved using filters which will reduce the ‘harsh’ feeling mentioned by passengers. 

For the current markets, the e320s run only to Paris Gare Du Nord. They are booked to run on the busiest trains between London and Paris, due to their additional capacity, with Eurostar keen to fill those extra seats. 

There are plans to run them to Brussels, but not until the first or second quarter of 2017, which will be before Eurostar starts serving Amsterdam. 

Performance-wise, the ‘374s’ have a better acceleration than the ‘373s’, but Eurostar says that, unlike a commuter service, this isn’t such a factor as there are long journeys between stops. For a high speed train, overall power is what makes the big difference, and the ‘374’ outputs 16kW, as opposed to the ‘372’s’ 12kW output.

More Class 374s are to be rolled out over the coming months as Eurostar continues modernising its fleets. A lot of people will be watching to see how they perform. As the first UIC-gauge trains built for the UK passenger market, and the first such trains built for a UK high-speed route, they will almost certainly be considered as candidates for this country’s other upcoming high-speed projects. 

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