Tuesday, April 3, 2007

French Train Breaks Rail Speed Record

Aboard the fastest TGV in the world

A supercharged TGV train with two locomotives and extra-large wheels has set a new world rail speed record, hitting 574.8kmh on a high-speed track in eastern France.

A French high-speed train broke the world speed record on rail today, reaching 357 miles (574.8 kilometers) an hour in a much publicized test in eastern France, exceeding expectations to travel at 150 meters per second, or 540 kilometers an hour.

The train, code-named V150, is a research prototype meant to demonstrate the superiority both of the TGV high speed train and of its likely successor, the AGV, which is also manufactured by the French engineering group Alstom. The performance on Tuesday came close to but did not break the world speed record for any train, set by an electromagnetic train in 2003.

The French railroad company SNCF and Alstom publicized the event as a test of “French excellence,” building on national pride for the 25-year-old bullet train.

The train reached its maximum speed in about 16 minutes at a site about 125 miles from Paris on a specially chosen sector of rail tracks of the new Eastern Europe TGV line, which will begin to serve Paris to Strasbourg in June. The V150 train, with a reduced number of train cars and larger wheels, incorporates technological elements from the AGV.

SNCF and Alstom insist the demonstration does not fulfill any immediate commercial purposes, but others say the speed could serve as a selling point in Asia and other markets.

“This world speed record is intended for research, to improve security and performance. And today the train that runs the fastest is the Eastern TGV,” said Anne-Marie Idrac, the head of SNCF upon leaving the train. “We don’t see the market today for such high speed.”

Alstom, the world high-speed train leader with 21 percent of the market, is hoping it might parlay the record into sales, as its competitors — Siemens of Germany and Hitachi of Japan — have cut into Alstom’s lead in the competition for the market.

High-speed trains are a potentially lucrative market in developing countries — China and India are the biggest markets, with China spending about 15 billion euros a year on its rail sector, while India is looking at developing a high-speed train network.

Crowds had gathered on bridges overlooking the rail tracks to watch the train race by, and national television broadcast live images from the train.

The Maglev from Japan holds the world record for a train with a speed of 581 kilometers (361 miles) an hour recorded in 2003; it uses electromagnetic technology, where the train does not actually touch the rail. This technology is more costly, typically runs shorter distances and is less compatible with existing rail networks.

High-speed trains have not caught on in the United States as they have in Europe, where TGV is generally considered to provide faster transportation than air travel for train trips of less than 3 hours.

France operates 400 TGV trains on about 1,100 miles of track built especially for high speeds.

The black and chrome train with three double-decker cars bettered the previous record set in 1990.

No comments: