TGV - why was it considered advanced?

bryan9 Jun 27, 2006

  1. bryan9

    bryan9 TrainBoard Member

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    I'm trying to get a fix on why the TGV was widely regarded (in the 1980s) as breakthrough technology. I'm sure there are people on this list far more knowledgeable than me, so I'd appreciate any comments.

    It seems to me that the breakthrough concepts in the TGV design have to do with infrastructure. Basically, there seem to be three premises in the design:

    • There will be abundant, relatively cheap electrical power (thanks to France's commitment to nuclear power for electricity generation)
    • No freight -- and therefore no need to worry about grades, as long as you have...
    • Ridiculously powerful locomotives. As far as I can piece together, the initial TGV powersets were something like twice as powerful as those used elsewhere in Europe at the time. To put this into U.S. perspective, imagine a four or five car Super Chief -- I think the weight of four or five of these 1950s era cars would be comparable to a TGV 10-car trainset -- being pulled (routinely) by 7 or 8 F units.
    As I understand it, TGV trainsets are capable of zipping up 3 and even 4 percent grades without losing too much speed. It seems to me that this would hold construction costs down quite a bit. A new line doesn't have to go around elevated areas. This means, I would think, that the average TGV line gets from point A to point B in fewer kilometers than a line designed for freight use. Perhaps hilly land is less expensive to purchase, too, because it isn't as economically valuable.

    The TGV trainsets can operate over conventional trackage with conventional voltages, meaning that no special construction is needed to access railway terminals, etc. I'm not sure I would call this "advanced," but it's a very good idea!

    So -- do I have the picture right? Am I at least in the ballpark???

    Regards,

    Bryan
     
  2. Martyn Read

    Martyn Read TrainBoard Supporter

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    A good start I think, sometimes the big leaps forward aren't all new idea's, but collections of existing ones put together in new ways. :)

    Add in a bunch of other technologies that weren't neccesarily new, but maybe hadn't been used in the same way or to the same extent before.

    Articulated fixed formation trainsets, giving an excellent ride and stability and very light weight, also helping that huge power to weight ratio you mentioned.

    No trackside signals, cab signalling only.

    The no-freight idea was pretty radical, i'd suggest that pretty much everywhere in the world at that time the financial driving force for rail is freight (excepting maybe commuter operations). Building long stretches of line that were not just passenger only, but fast passenger only is a bit of a departure from the established norm. In fact most places in the world were assuming that air travel was the way forward and 'long distance' (meaning something different in Europe to the US obviously! ;) ) rail was a dead duck. TGV proved that long distance high speed rail works very well.

    Running trains that fast might be technically feasible on a 'normal' line, but in terms of track space, how do you mix a 186mph train every half hour between for instance freight or local passenger trains running at maybe 60mph, or about 1/3 of the speed? I suspect physically fitting trains that fast onto the existing busy railway was not feasible.

    There are also advantages in terms of reliability and maintainence for lines that only use one type of train, but I suspect that wasn't something that was thought of at the time.
     
  3. Martyn Read

    Martyn Read TrainBoard Supporter

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    Just a further thought, i'm pretty sure the beginnings of the TGV project dates back to the 1960's, there are certainly test loco's that relate to the TGV project that you can research back that far.

    Thinking more globally, the Japanese had already pioneered dedicated ROW's, but only to 125mph back in the 60's (which the French were running at on some conventional lines back then), which still seems very conservative when you compare with what Penn Central were claiming the Metroliners would manage up & down the NEC ;)
     
  4. BedfordRob

    BedfordRob TrainBoard Supporter

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    Lots of space

    Technology aside, one factor in France's favour in implementing a passenger only track are the vast tracts of empty space available for building and relatively low population density for the area.
     
  5. Hytec

    Hytec TrainBoard Member

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    Just a guess, but I suspect one major factor is that the European population was, and still is far more accepting of rail travel over air travel, compared to the US where the opposite is true to the extreme.
     
  6. Thieu

    Thieu TrainBoard Member

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    True, but the French government is also a very proud and nationalistic one, and TGV's are considered an example of the French industry's 'greatness'. So building these lines was also a nationalistic item, and that is also why the Germans have their own high speed train, the ICE.

    The TGV has killed many air routes: Air France cancelled many connections and is buying TGV chairs for their customers. In Holland, the KLM takes part in the new High Speed Alliance together with the Dutch Railways, because air travel from Amsterdam to Paris is useless.

    'The costs precede the earnings', is a Dutch saying: first you invest, than you harvest.

    And I think that there is some freight on TGV lines: mail trains and fast freights during the night.
     
  7. Martyn Read

    Martyn Read TrainBoard Supporter

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    Thieu is correct, the advent of the TGV is normally felt with a big reduction in the corresponding air route. I would guess that rail had virtually zero of the London-Paris market before the channel tunnel opened, a quick check on the net shows it as 66% of the market share in 2004 and rising. (edit - just found the press release - 71% market share in 2005, big jump up expected in 2007 with a new terminal connecting to the North of London, plus a new route into London that will knock another 15 minutes off the run!)

    Folk will tend to use the easiest method of transport that suits their needs, folk don't use air over the train because they don't like the train, but they may if it's slower, or more expensive, or harder to use.

    Certainly the mail trains using TGV routes are actually mail TGV sets, so should be able to run mixed with the regular passenger trains. Not sure about freight, although I know it is at least proposed for the second stage of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, but wether that was a dodge to get the sums to add up or a real aspiration is another question. To my mind the real benefit for freight was that it got all the Eurostars off the conventional routes! :)
     
  8. Thieu

    Thieu TrainBoard Member

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  9. Martyn Read

    Martyn Read TrainBoard Supporter

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    Thanks Thieu, my French is very poor, but I think I can just about make that out :D
     
  10. Hytec

    Hytec TrainBoard Member

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    Thieu and Martyn, thank you for your inputs. I assume that high speed passenger rail is more practical and acceptable in Europe because the distances between major cities is far less than in North America. A European air traveler probably spends more time driving to/from terminals, plus delays with security and baggage, than actual flight time between the cities. Comparing true door-to-door times within Europe, high speed rail such as TGV, ICE, and EuroStar is probably equal to, if not faster than air.

    By the way, there is an English translation button at the bottom of the Fret SNCF page. I don't know if it is an accurate or complete translation......?
     
  11. BedfordRob

    BedfordRob TrainBoard Supporter

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  12. Martyn Read

    Martyn Read TrainBoard Supporter

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    Tried that button, but it didn't seem to give me the same page! Anyhow! :D

    If you assume an hour to get from the city to the airport and on to the plane, and another hour to do the other end, that's 372 miles the train could have run as a 'head start' to the plane. Lets say 3 hours by train and one in the air gives you a bit over 500 miles, say Chicago to Kansas City?

    I'd be pretty sure there would be plenty of city pairs in the US where this kind of thing would be competitive, but it would take an awful lot of money.

    Personally, i'm not convinced you will ever get that kind of service by incremental tweaks to existing freight lines, the capacity isn't there, the speed is going to be hard to acheive, and there are safety/reliability issues as well.
     
  13. Martyn Read

    Martyn Read TrainBoard Supporter

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    Thanks Rob! That's the one :D
     
  14. Alan

    Alan Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Fascinating discussion :)

    A few years ago, I was standing on a station (Biggleswade, I think) on the east coast main line and there were a group of American tourists who were totally amazed and fascinated as train after train whizzed through at 125mph!

    Anyway, in Europe, high speed rail regularly beats city centre to city centre times by air. So...how about a north-south high speed line for the UK? At least it is now being talked about more often ;)
     
  15. Hytec

    Hytec TrainBoard Member

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    I agree Alan, but those same folk, when back home, wouldn't take a train if their lives depended on it. I guess it's a cultural thing....?:cry:

    Pogo, in Walt Kelly's comic strip of the same name, said..."We have met the Enemy, and he is US!":embarassed:
     
  16. Thieu

    Thieu TrainBoard Member

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    The distances are less than in the USA, but there are enough regions in your country that could have high speed trains. But the political system is not ready for such investments. You have the NEC, but is not comparible to real TGV lines. Of course, such a line in the Midwest would not be usefull, but their are enough densily populated regions that have a market for high speed trains. So, instead of investing in highways and airports.....

    I know there is a limit in travel time by train: up to 800 km the train is a good alternative, larger distances are better (=faster) by plane. But a seat in a train is preferable to a seat in a plane, I think: more room, more freedom, better view on the landscape, and enough space for working.
     
  17. Martyn Read

    Martyn Read TrainBoard Supporter

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    Hank, I just plain don't beleive that. Folk do use the NEC, lots of folk in fact, when it's running reliably as it has been a few times over Amtrak's history then the airlines have found it tough to compete.

    Most people don't fly everywhere because they love being in aircraft (in fact the opposite is quite often true), but because it's the only real way to do some of these journeys in a sensible time.

    That Chicago-KC that would take 3 hours at 186mph, just taking a look at the current Amtrak schedules the current time is around 6 hours by the SW Cheif, and a whopping 13 hours on 'corridor' trains (via St Louis), and presumably because it takes that long that's only one train every day!

    Not checked the airline schedules but I wouldn't be surprised if there are flights set up so that you can get up early in Chicago, fly to KC for a business lunch and fly back early evening. Or vice versa. You can't do the journey there and back by rail in one day if you wanted to.

    At the moment folk in that corridor will be seeing 6 hours on the train versus one hour in the air, that's a big difference.

    How many employers will be willing for their staff to spend 5 'extra' hours travelling to a meeting, and then have to pay overnight accomodation for them as they can't get home again after?

    Like I say, I don't believe for a second that Americans hate trains. They certainly like their cars, but in a modern world a train taking several times longer than the fastest means starts ruling itself out of the equation.
     
  18. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    Most of our populated regions, what we refer to a "major cities," have already built, or are presently developing local systems. These we know as "rapid transit." Their speeds are limited by a couple of factors. One being their targeted ridership is commuters. So, frequent stops. The other is constant litigations from NIMBYs.

    :sad:

    Boxcab E50
     
  19. BoxcabE50

    BoxcabE50 Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

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    In the USA, we need only go back in time. Little more than a generation. And you'd have seen many commuter trains. With a basically satisfied ridership. But then our government stepped in. The new operation, grossly inexperienced in anything rail oriented, the railroads immediately swindled the fledgling operation. And it was doomed from the beginning.

    Compound this with politicians, their minions, and government employees who are highly biased, (or just plain crooked), in an incredible ignorance, with labor unions failing to comprehend their role in a new era, and it was, still is, doomed to failure.

    :zip:

    Boxcab E50
     
  20. Thieu

    Thieu TrainBoard Member

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    That's depressing! All kinds of people transport need and get subsidies, unless it are trains: then they have to be selfsufficient. In Europe we have split the infrastructure from the exploitation, and I do not understand why Amtrak is making so big problem of this at the NEC. By splitting these two different things you get a good insight in the costs of operation, and of infrastructure. The government is responsible for the infra, just like highways and airports, and the companies are responsible for the trains. Of course, you will have to put money in the exploitation also (at least for commuter trains), and that will make politicians so shy (this also happens in Europe.....). But they forget to count the environmental issues, safety (= the small amount of deaths and injured, compared to cars), and the costs for parking lots, highways + maintenance, etc.
     

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