It's taken nearly 160 million passengers to Paris, Brussels and Ashford in Kent in its first 21 years of service. But it must be said the current fleet of GEC-Alsthom Class 373 trains are getting a tad on the tatty side. Enter the new Siemens e320… And T3 did, at Eurostar's St Pancras base.
So this is the Siemens e320, so called because it has a top speed of 320kph (about 200mph). It'll be in service 'by the end of this year' on Eurostar's routes between London St Pancras, Paris, Brussels, Lille, Calais, Disneyland, Avignon, the French and Swiss Alps and Geneva. Not forgetting Ebbsfleet and Ashford, of course. The jewels in the crown!
Getting on the e320 involved signing disclaimers, and comitting the really quite unforgiveable fashion crime of donning a flouro orange armband and a pair of blue bags over my shoes. I can confirm that new trains do indeed have a "new train smell", like cars but more so, and that this was by FAR the cleanest train I have ever been on. Admittedly that's not saying much, but it was damn new and fresh.
The e320 pulls 16,000KW of power and is 16 cars and 400 metres long - the longest train in Siemens' Velaro class. Whereas the current Eurostar has all its propulsion systems housed in the front carriage, in the e320 it's all under the floors, allowing for more seats to be included. This allows it to take 900 punters, compared to the current 720 or so.
Are you REALLY into trains? Here's the rest of the official spec.
Voltage system: 25 kV AC and 1.5 / 3 kV DC Brake systems: regenerative, rheostatic, pneumatic Track gauge: 1,435 mm Axles/bogies: 64 (32 driven)/32 Wheel arrangement: 2xBo’Bo’+2’2’+Bo’Bo’+2’2’+2’2’+Bo’Bo’+2’2’+Bo’Bo’ Max. axle load: 17 tonnes Operating temperature range: –25 °C to +40 °C Signaling systems: ETCS, KVB, TVM, RP
Having half the axles driven helps the e320 run on gradients of up to 40 per cent.
So that's the spec. Now this here…
…Is the driver's cabin, complete with an anti-glare screen that glides down like something on a space rocket. But here, in video format, are possibly my two favourite features of the new train, whose internal design is by Ferrari's regular fabric wranglers Pininfarina, no less.
#1: Distinctly Star Wars-esque doors, replacing the lever-operated barn doors on the current fleet.
#2: In the immortal words of Alan Partridge, YES! It's an extender!
Then there's the buffet carriage, which now has more of a self-service element to it, and again distinctly sci-fi lines. Keen fans of the existing Eurostar train may be distressed to note that the random "cocktail table" element of the design, with a round table on a big pole sitting in the middle of the carriage, has been phased out. Shame. It does, at least in this photo, look pretty sexy though, as buffet cars go.
Although, now, it must be said that the above is a promo shot and that the buffet car in fact currently looks like THIS. But we're sure they'll have the lighting fixed up so it looks properly like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey by the time it's finished.
The train is air conditioned throughout, with a lot of fireproofing for obvious reasons, and also protection against moisture (the Chunnel has 100% humidity most of the time). Further cool, tech detail: the little screens that show seat reservations are now OLED for easier visibility.
As I mentioned, the internal design is by Pininfarina. This is Standard Premier/Business Premier Class.
Yes, the look here is austere, smart… Bordering on drab? Maybe. I'd say it looks better in the flesh and the general feel it gives off is quite relaxing. There's a lot of leg room (the seats are narrower, though not noticeably less comfortable than the ones they replace).
Other interesting features are this aperture above the pleasingly sizeable bin, which may house a coffee machine. Or may not. That one's still under discussion…
And then in Business Premier there's this private room. Available at extra cost to "those in the know", it's primarily for business meetings or camera-shy celebs. If I can offer one word of advice it's that they might want to fix/curtain off the large gap that this photo was taken through, in that case…
Arguably the key feature for tech lovers is that there's now USB charging as well as UK and European plug sockets. Get in! Thanks to a series of relays there's 3G and 4G connectivity from all the main UK networks in the Channel Tunnel, as well as free Wi-Fi throughout.
This is Standard class. More colourful, still a fair amount of legroom, chances of coffee machines and the Beckhams hanging out: minimal.
It's good to know, amidst all this shining newness, that some things on British trains never change. Again, I'm sure it'll be working by the time it hits the tracks.