Having recently been in the depths of a project looking at international trains, I got on to ruminating on what-could-have-been with the UK – mainland Europe business as BR originally intended. Originally the Eurostar business was a conglomeration of BR, SNCF, and SNCB, which of course were all state run. By the time Eurostar went live in 1994, the UK was in the midst of privatisation so the BR share was being run by London and Continental Railways (LCR) which is a company wholly owned by the DfT. In 2010, a company called Eurostar International Ltd was created to run the Eurostar service, 55% stake being owned by SNCF, 40% owned by LCR, and 5% owned by SNCB. It is this 40% stake which has just been sold by the Government.
The original intent was the service we see today (London – Paris / Brussels) but augmented with regional trains from as far afield as Glasgow running direct through the tunnel to Paris. Then on top of all that, there was a proposed sleeper service, the Nightstar.
The regional Eurostar trains were built; they are called the North of London sets and you may even have travelled on one. When GNER ran the ECML and was short of rolling stock it hired in some N0L class 373/2s to cover the shortfall. Most people remember them fondly in their striking dark blue livery. Those who got off at York particularly liked them because York was the first stop north of London where the platforms were long enough to take an entire set (all 14 carriages) – if you wanted to get off at York, you were advised to sit in the front carriage it was off the end of the platforms at the other stations. Unfortunately that has been the only use for them in the UK and for the last few years they have been running as TGVs on French domestic high speed routes.
The Nightstar project was even more disastrous. Most of the vehicles were built but never went into service as it was realised early on that the demand wasn’t there (well I would have gone on it gladly so there was some demand, obviously just not enough). At the time the sleeper carriages made headlines for their price – three times the price of any other carriage built around the time (the Mk4s being the most recent) but unlike other carriages they were fitted with three power systems to work in the three countries so it’s perhaps not surprising they cost so much. These days, such compliacations are much easier to deal with. Eventually, having been kicking around for a bit with nothing to do, London and Continental Railways sold them back to Alstom who promptly sold them and the rest of the incomplete order to Canada’s Via Rail to run their Renaissance train.
Of course, on Penlowry, there is the aim to model a tunnel running from Sodor to Northern Ireland, known as the Stollen. Such claims as “economic unviability” are of course unheard of on Sodor with the bankrolling of the railway that seems to occur. So it is highly likely that Eurostars will be seen running through the tunnel in GNER and original livery, along with other trains the Fat Controller has collected from round the globe to enable him to run the service.
One day, it might even see the use of high speed postal services between the UK and Ireland….