The Japanese were the pioneers.
In 1964, the Tokyo Olympic Games were the starting of the high-speed
train with the launch of the Tokkaido, a conventional train
linking Tokyo and Osaka at a speed of 210 km/hr. Three years later,
the Capitole, linking Paris and Toulouse, reached a comparable
speed following technical changes to the line. In 1970, Italy started
building the Rome-Florence Direttissima designed for trains
travelling at 250 km/hr. But it was not until 1981, after a new
world record of 380 km/hr had been set, that the TGV first made
the Paris to Lyons run in 2h40 (down to two hours now), knocking
an hour and ten minutes off the previous time.
Competing for records
then, France has continued to concentrate on expanding its TGV network,
achieving ever better performances. On 18 May 1990, TGV Atlantique's
325 clocked up a speed of 515.3 km/hr, setting a new world speed
record for rail. Today, Paris is just 55 minutes from Le Mans (TGV
Atlantique), 1h25 from Brussels (TGV Nord) and 2h55 from Marseilles
Other countries have joined the race. In Italy,
the new generation of ETR 500s, able to carry 590 passengers at
speeds of 300 km/hr, replaced the famous Pendolino, a tilting
train running at 250 km/hr on specially adapted lines between Rome
and Naples, and Bologna and Florence, Milan, Turin and Lyons. In
Germany, the ICE 3 trains reach speeds of 330 km/hr on the Hanover-Waurzburg,
Hanover-Berlin, and Mannheim-Stuttgart lines. The high-speed rail
link between Madrid (AVE) and Seville, inaugurated on the occasion
of the 1992 international exhibition, uses rolling stock which resembles
the French TGV and which is made at the Alstom workshops in Belfort,
but is designed for a different track width (1 688 mm).
The major European project for the future is to
further expand this high-speed rail grid by connecting up more and
more networks. More than 2 000 km of line are currently under construction
or at the planning stage, most notably between Brussels and Liège,
Cologne and Frankfurt, Madrid and Barcelona, Rome and Naples, Nyland
and Umeå (Sweden), and between the exit to the Channel Tunnel and
London. A growing number of new cross-border links are beginning
to weave the fabric of a genuine continental rail area.
The tilting train
tilting train ( able to run on conventional lines ( is also
attracting interest in many countries. The technology is based on
hydraulic suspension systems which enable the train to take bends
at speeds of up to 30% higher, without any discomfort to passengers.
This results in time-savings of between 10% and 20% on inter-regional
and inter-city networks, at one-fifth of the cost of building the
new infrastructure necessary for high-speed trains.
The Pendolino in Italy and the ICE T
in Germany both use this system, while in the United Kingdom Virgin
is using this technology to modernise its fleet, on the London-Glasgow
line for example. A similar solution has been adopted on the Helsinki
to Turku line in Finland and between Lisbon and Porto in Portugal.
France is trying to adapt tilting technology to
its TGV, but this is not easy as TGV carriages form a fixed set,
with no more than one degree difference in the tilt between them.
'To allow the carriages to tilt one after the other as the train
takes the bend, this angle must be increased, which involves adapting
the intercirculation ring that couples them,' says the SNCF. 'The
bogies also have to be fitted with a crosspiece and pistons able
to tilt the train body.' Despite these obstacles, the first tilting
TGV is expected to be running on the Paris-Orléans-Limoges-Toulouse
line by 2005.
Service, environment, safety
there are, no doubt, some who dream of trains achieving even higher
speeds, this is not a realistic prospect. Noise, vibration, the
cost of maintaining the track and rolling stock, and energy consumption
(up by 50% for an increase in train speed from 300 km/hr to 360
km/hr) would all increase excessively for just a marginal time-saving.
'The high-speed train system has itself arrived
at a certain technical balance,' explains Phlippe Renard, head of
the SNCF's Research and Technology Department. 'But we are continuing
to work on optimising energy consumption, power collection, passenger
comfort, on-board services and noise reduction.'
Research on noise pollution is concentrating on
the penetration of the train's nose through the air to reduce
the aerodynamic noise which becomes particularly problematic at
speeds of over 300 km/hr. It is possible to streamline the zones
of turbulence ( the bogies supporting the wheels ( but care is needed
not to interfere with the ventilation to avoid overheating. Considerable
progress has been made as the latest TGVs are no noisier than a
conventional train travelling at 160km/hr. At a distance of 25 metres,
the noise from a TGV line does not exceed 65 decibels (dB), or the
equivalent of the raise level from a road with light traffic.
'I am convinced that with the high-speed train
Europe has invented a suitable transport system,' concludes Philippe
Renard. 'The system is appropriate for the size of the continent,
its population density and transport needs between urban areas lying
a few hundred or at most a thousand kilometres apart.'
speed in figures
2 500 km of dedicated lines, in France (1 147km), Germany
(510 km), Spain (377), Italy (259), and Belgium (74).
(Figures for 2000)
147.4 million (1999) ( compared with 277.4 million in
Japan. 58.7 billion passengers per km (2000)
€1.5 billion, of which the SNCF accounts for two-thirds.
than just a train
The technological feats of the TGV
involve more than just speed. Extending the French network
to Brussels and London, for example, meant designing
a new kind of pantograph
(the arm in contact with the electric lines)
able to capture currents at voltage levels which change
every time the train crosses a border. The Eurostar
pantographs capture a 25 000-volt monophase current
between Paris and the Channel Tunnel exit, a 3 000-volt
continuous current in Belgium, and a 750-volt current
by means of side friction blocks in contact with a third
rail in the United Kingdom. The 16 sensors fitted beneath
the train also enable it to use four (or six on some
lines) different signalling and speed control systems.
Finally, the rolling stock had to be 'slimmed down'
to lock into the British track, designed for narrower
trains than in France.
Unlike other trains, the TGV also
operates according to the carriage
set principle: each train consists of fixed carriage
sets of the same number of coaches (eight or ten), always
coupled in the same order, and with a railcar at each
end allowing it to travel in either direction. This
system saves considerable time when manoeuvring or 'building'
a train. With 18 carriages, the Eurostar is able to
divide into two in the event of an incident in the Channel
Tunnel, to evacuate passengers along the undamaged section
Another special feature is that the
TGV is the sole user of the high-speed lines. The track
is for its exclusive use and no freight or express
train can cause it to slow from its 300 km/hr. Every
day, 770 TGVs travel on this dedicated network. The
timing is calculated down to the nearest second, and
there is always at least four minutes between the passage
of two TGVs at any given point to guarantee passenger
safety and train punctuality.