Published on July 13, 2016
TGV (French: Train à Grande Vitesse, “high-speed train”) is France’s high-speed rail service, operated by SNCF, the national rail operator. It was developed in the 1970s by GEC-Alsthom and SNCF. Originally designed as turbotrains to be powered by gas turbines, the prototypes evolved into electric trains with the 1973 oil crisis. Following the inaugural service between Paris and Lyon in 1981 on the LGV Sud-Est (“LGV”) (French: Ligne à Grande Vitesse, high-speed line), the network, centred on Paris, has expanded to connect main cities across France and in adjacent countries on combinations of high-speed and conventional lines.
test train set the record for the fastest wheeled train, reaching 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) on 3 April 2007. In mid-2011, scheduled TGV trains operated at the highest speeds in conventional train service in the world, regularly reaching 320 km/h (200 mph) on the LGV Est, LGV Rhin-Rhône, and LGV Méditerranée.[not verified in body] According to Railway Gazette reports in 2007, the world’s fastest scheduled rail journey was a start-to-stop average speed of 279.4 km/h (173.6 mph) between Gare de Champagne-Ardenne and Gare de Lorraine on the LGV Est line, not surpassed until Railway Gazette’s 2013 reported average of 283.7 km/h (176.3 mph) express service on the Shijiazhuang to Zhengzhou segment of China’s Shijiazhuang–Wuhan High-Speed Railway.
The commercial success of the first LGV, the LGV Sud-Est, led to an expansion of the network to the south (LGV Rhône-Alpes and LGV Méditerranée), and new lines in the west (LGV Atlantique), north (LGV Nord), and east (LGV Est). Eager to emulate the TGV’s success, neighbouring countries Italy, Spain, and Germany developed their own high-speed rail services. The TGV system itself extends to neighbouring countries, either directly (Switzerland and Italy) or through TGV-derivative networks linking France to Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands (Thalys), as well as France and Belgium to the United Kingdom (Eurostar). Several future lines are planned, including extensions within France and to surrounding countries. Cities such as Tours have become part of a “TGV commuter belt” around Paris. In 2007, SNCF generated profits of €1.1 billion (approximately US$1.75 billion, £875 million) driven largely by higher margins on the TGV network.
A TGV driver’s cab
The idea of the TGV was first proposed in the 1960s, after Japan had begun construction of the Shinkansen (the bullet train) in 1959. At the time the French government favoured new technology, exploring the production of hovercraft and the Aérotrain air-cushion vehicle. Simultaneously, SNCF began researching high-speed trains on conventional tracks. In 1976, the government agreed to fund the first line. By the mid-1990s, the trains were so popular that SNCF president Louis Gallois declared TGV “The train that saved French railways”.
Main article: Development of the TGV
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It was originally planned that the TGV, then standing for très grande vitesse (very high speed) or turbine grande vitesse (high-speed turbine), would be propelled by gas turbines, selected for their small size, good power-to-weight ratio and ability to deliver high power over an extended period. The first prototype, TGV 001, was the only gas-turbine TGV: following the increase in the price of oil during the 1973 energy crisis, gas turbines were deemed uneconomic and the project turned to electricity from overhead lines, generated by new nuclear power stations.
TGV 001 was not a wasted prototype: its gas turbine was only one of its many new technologies for high-speed rail travel. It also tested high-speed brakes, needed to dissipate the large amount of kinetic energy of a train at high speed, high-speed aerodynamics, and signalling. It was articulated, i.e. two adjacent carriages shared a bogie, allowing free yet controlled motion with respect to one another. It reached 318 km/h (198 mph), which remains the world speed record for a non-electric train. Its interior and exterior were styled by British-born designer Jack Cooper, whose work formed the basis of early TGV designs, including the distinctive nose shape of the first power cars.
Changing the TGV to electric traction required a significant design overhaul. The first electric prototype, nicknamed Zébulon, was completed in 1974, testing features such as innovative body mounting of motors, pantographs, suspension and braking. Body mounting of motors allowed over 3 tonnes to be eliminated from the power cars and greatly reduced the unsprung weight. The prototype travelled almost 1,000,000 km (620,000 mi) during testing.
In 1976 the French government funded the TGV project, and construction of the LGV Sud-Est, the first high-speed line (French: ligne à grande vitesse), began shortly afterwards. The line was given the designation LN1, Ligne Nouvelle 1, .
After two pre-production trainsets (nicknamed Patrick and Sophie) had been tested and substantially modified, the first production version was delivered on 25 April 1980.