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High-speed rail link for London, Frankfurt

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Big changes in European travel expected
  • Deutsche Bahn-run service links London with Frankfurt, Amsterdam
  • Currently only Eurostar runs passenger trains through Channel Tunnel
  • Journey time to Frankfurt will be five hours; Amsterdam four hours
  • Analysts predict new service could drive down rail fares

(CNN) -- A German high-speed train which is expected to offer a direct service from London to Frankfurt from 2013 was unveiled Tuesday at London's St. Pancras station following safety tests in the Channel Tunnel.

German rail operator Deutsche Bahn said it also intended to run trains from London to Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The network will also serve Brussels, Belgium, the Dutch port of Rotterdam and Cologne in Germany.

The Siemens-built ICE 3 train, which has a maximum speed of 320 kph (200 miles per hour), will undergo further test runs and approval measures to use the Channel Tunnel, Deutsche Bahn said.

The service uses the UK's first high-speed train line, High Speed 1, which was completed in 2007 and linked London directly to the continental high-speed rail network for the first time.

Speaking at St. Pancras, Deutsche Bahn Chairman Rudiger Grube said the service would bring "Germany and the UK closer together in the future," as well as offering customers a "genuine alternative" to air travel.

He said an evacuation test carried out in the Channel Tunnel at the weekend had been "highly successful." The ICE 3 Class 407 was the most modern high-speed train in Europe, satisfying "the highest standards in terms of safety, passenger comfort and efficiency," Grube added.

British rail minister Theresa Villiers said: "For many people high-speed rail is a more convenient alternative to air or road -- allowing them to hop on board in the city center and catch up on some work along the way. I am sure these continental services will prove popular with business travelers and tourists alike."

Eurostar, which is jointly operated by the national rail companies of France and Belgium and a British subsidiary, is currently the only operator to run passenger trains through the tunnel, serving Paris and Brussels directly as well as ski resorts in the French Alps.

Eurotunnel also offers a cross-channel service transporting motorists and their vehicles through the tunnel.

The new route from London to Frankfurt will offer morning, midday and evening services to Germany's business capital in five hours, Deutsche Bahn said.

That journey can currently be done in as little as five hours 37 minutes, according to the Rail Europe website, although the trip involves changes in Brussels and Cologne and can take longer. Rail analysts also predict that greater competition could drive down fares.

Transport commentator Christian Wolmar told CNN that the new service would make a huge difference to rail passengers.

"It's looking like we're going to get a lot more destinations from St. Pancras which is great news," he said. "Within three to four years you will get a lot of new services."

Earlier this month, Eurostar announced plans to buy 10 new Siemens trains as well as the refurbishment of his existing fleet and said it hoped to offer direct services to Amsterdam and Geneva by 2014.

Chief Executive Nicolas Petrovic told CNN he welcomed competition from Deutsche Bahn.

"It's a new era for high-speed rail," said Petrovic. "The more competition, the more innovation there is in the market, the more destinations we offer to the clients, the more people will choose to travel by high-speed rail rather than flying."

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