France celebrates train's new speed record in Champagne

Published on ZDNet News: April 3, 2007, 9:28 AM PT

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A French TGV train broke a world speed record on Tuesday as it hurtled down a newly built track at 357 miles per hour (574.8 kilometers per hour) in the country's Champagne region.

The special train called V150, an enhanced version of trains that will run on the Paris-Strasbourg line beginning June 10, has been preparing for the record run for weeks, and it carried journalists and other guests for the official attempt.

From about 236 mph, vibrations in the train became more and more noticeable. At 304 mph, passengers started to get slightly dizzy. At 335 mph, it became difficult to remain standing up despite the stability of the train.

At 354 mph, the driver wore a very big smile. "We had no worries--no birds, good weather, none of the troubles we had during the tests," said driver Eric Pieczak.

The absolute speed record for trains was set by a 'maglev' train in Japan, at 361 mph in 2003. However, those trains do not run on rails but glide on a magnetic field.

The previous speed record for a train running on rails was 320.2 mph, set in France in 1990.

Engineer Alstom, state railways group SNCF and track operator RFF had teamed up to show off French engineering and boost export prospects for French trains.

President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin both praised the new record.

"This record is a magnificent demonstration of France's great abilities in research and development and is further proof of the excellence of the French rail industry," Chirac said.

Philippe Mellier, the head of Alstom's transport division, said the commercial speed of Train a Grande Vitesse trains could reach 217-224 mph in the next five to six years. The latest TGVs run at 199 mph.

"An operator and a country that wants to launch high-speed rail, that is a lot of money at stake, they need to be able to do that in complete safety," he said.

Apart from France's TGV and Japan's Shinkansen, high-speed trains are also made by Germany's Siemens and Canada's Bombardier.

The V150 was made up of two normal cars that will run on the eastern TGV track, three double-decker carriages and three sets of motorized wheels. The train can develop over 25,000 horsepower, twice that of a conventional TGV.

The record was set at Le Chemin between Preny, near Metz in the east of France, and Bezannes near Reims at 1116 GMT.

The event run was broadcast live on television in France and Germany. The total record operation cost $40 million (30 million euros), shared by the three partners.

High-speed trains in France, as well as rail links to London, Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam, are competing with plane travel, and several French regional airlines have gone out of business since the TGV started in 1981.

 © 2007 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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