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Toot Sweet! - French Train Tops 350 MPH to Break Record

Associated Press: 04.03.07

A high-speed French train with a souped-up engine and wheels broke the world speed record Tuesday for conventional rail trains, reaching 357.2 mph.
Train V150 earlier in its run in Thiaucourt, before setting the speed record, April 3, 2007.

The black and chrome train with three double-decker cars, named the V150, bettered the previous record of 320.2 mph, set in 1990 by the French fast train. However, it fell short of the ultimate record set by Japan's non-conventional magnetically levitated train, which sped to 361 mph in 2003.

The endeavor showcased technology France is trying to sell to overseas markets like China.

See also:

TGV train breaks speed record in Champagne

Reuters: Apr 3, 2007
By Benjamin Mallet
Special high-speed train V150 travels on the new French TGV track in Jaulny near Pont-a-Mousson, eastern France, on its way to the start of its attempt to set a new world train speed record, April 3, 2007. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

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

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

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

The absolute speed record for trains was set by a 'maglev' train in Japan, at 581 kilometres per hour 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 515.3 kph, set in France in 1990.

Apart from France's Train a Grande Vitesse (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 motorised wheels. The train can develop over 25,000 horsepower, twice that of a conventional TGV.

The record was set between Preny, near Metz in the east of France, and Bezannes near Reims. The event run was broadcast live on television in France and neighbouring Germany.

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 disappeared since the TGV started in 1981.

See also:

French Train Shatters Rail Record

All Headline News: April 3, 2007
William Macklin - Staff Reporter

Paris, France (AHN) - Packing a 25,000-horsepower engine and running on over-sized wheels, a French train shattered the world speed record for conventional rail travel Tuesday as it hit a blistering 354.1 mph.

The double-decker, black and chrome high-speed train, dubbed the V150, easily shot beyond the previous record of 320.2 mph, as a small army of engineers and technicians milled around inside measuring the train's performance.

The train is the latest development in France's increasing use of bullet trains. The new TGV ("train a grande vitesse) has the eel-like body of its counterparts, but is outfitted with larger wheels intended to cover more track with each rotation, a hyped-up 25,000-horsepower engine, and gets its power from overhead cables with electrical tension goosed up from 25,000 volts to 31,000.

The new train's speed delighted the V150s owners, Alstom Transports, and pleased its operators.

"We saw the countryside go by a little faster than we did during the tests," the train's operator, Eric Pieczac, told the Associated Press. "I'm proud to have fulfilled the mission."

Train operator Eric Pieczac, right, celebrates the new world speed record, as TGV president Anne-Marie Idrac looks on in Bezannes, France, April 3, 2007.

Before Tuesday's run, Alstom Transports had hoped to do more than just level the speed record for conventional train travel. The company had intimated that it wanted to level the playing field with a chief rival in the high-speed rail industry: Japan.

Since 2003, Japan has held the absolute speed record for a train. Unlike conventional trains which run on tracks, Japan's Maglev moves along a guideway soaring just above a powerful magnetic field. In 2003, a Maglev was clocked at 361 mph.

See also:

French Train Sets Rail Record 357.2 Mph

Associated Press: April 3, 2007

ABOARD TRAIN V150, France - A French train with a 25,000-horsepower engine and special wheels broke the world speed record Tuesday for conventional rail trains, reaching 357.2 mph as it zipped through the countryside to the applause of spectators.

Roaring like a jet plane, with sparks flying overhead and kicking up a long trail of dust, the black-and-chrome V150 with three double-decker cars surpassed the record of 320.2 mph set in 1990 by another French train.

The high-speed French Train V150 enters the world speed record registering zone near Grigny, April 3, 2007.

It fell short, however, of beating the ultimate record set by Japan's magnetically levitated train, which hit 361 mph in 2003.

The French TGV, or "train a grande vitesse,'' as the country's bullet train is called, had two engines on either side of the three double-decker cars for the record run, some 125 miles east of the capital on a new track linking Paris with Strasbourg.

Aboard the V150, the sensation was comparable to that of an airplane at takeoff.

The demonstration was meant to showcase technology that France is trying to sell to the multibillion-dollar overseas markets such as China. Hours before the run, Transport Minister Dominique Perben received a delegation from California, which is studying prospects for a high-speed line from Sacramento to San Diego, via San Francisco and Los Angeles.

People lined bridges and clapped and cheered when as the V150 roared by.

"We saw the countryside go by a little faster than we did during the tests,'' said engineer Eric Pieczac.

"Everything went very well,'' he added.

"There are about 10,000 engineers who would want to be in my place,'' Pieczac said. "It makes me very happy, a mixed feeling of pride and honor to be able to reach this speed.''

Technicians on the train had "French excellence'' emblazoned on the backs of their T-shirts.

Philippe Mellier, president of Alstom Transports, the builder, had said before the test that the train would try to break the record held by the Japanese maglev train.

Normally, French TGVs travel at a cruising speed of about 186.4 mph.

The V150 was equipped with larger wheels than the usual TGV to cover more ground with each rotation and a stronger, 25,000-horsepower engine, said Alain Cuccaroni, in charge of the technical aspects of testing.

Adjustments also were made to the new track, which opens June 10, notably the banking on turns. Rails were also treated to the wheels could would perfect contact, Cuccaroni said. The electrical tension in the overhead cable was increased from 25,000 volts to 31,000.

It was the first time that double-decker cars were used at such a high speed, according to officials of Alstom, which makes TGVs and crawled back a year ago from the edge of bankruptcy.

The double-decker cars were transformed into a laboratory for the event so that technicians from the state-run rail company SNCF and Alstom could gather data during the run.

The goal was more than "simply breaking a record,'' Cuccaroni said, adding that data from the test should help improve the security and comfort of passengers.

The record gilds France's image in the expanding market for high-speed technology as countries turn to bullet trains. France competes with neighboring Germany and with Japan for contracts.

China, the biggest potential market, was to start building a high-speed line this year between Beijing and Shanghai to cut travel time from nine hours to five.

China's state media reported last year that the government plans to build more than 7,500 miles of high-speed railways in coming years at a cost of $250 billion to $310 billion.

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French Railroads/Alstom Break World Rail Speed Record

MARKET WIRE: April 03, 2007

WHITE PLAINS, NY -- A specially-modified French high-speed train (TGV*) today broke the world rail speed record**, traveling at 357 mph on a section of new high-speed track in eastern France. The previous record, set by the French in 1990, was 320 mph.

The record-setting double-decker trainset, dubbed V150 (for the goal of traveling at 150 meters/second or 335.5 mph) carrying VIPs and journalists, was an enhanced version of the equipment that will run on the new TGV East line, which opens for commercial service on June 10 this year.

Normal service at 199 mph

Normal service on TGV East will be at 199 mph (320 km/hr), cutting travel time by one-third to one-half of the current travel times and linking Paris to the Champagne, Lorraine and Alsace regions of France, as well as new direct connections to Germany, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Tickets and schedules for TGV East are available April 10 at www.raileurope.com (in Canada www.raileurope.ca).

Modifications to the record-setting TGV train (built by Alstom) included larger wheels and a 25,000 horsepower engine -- double the power of a conventional TGV. The French Railroads (SNCF), French Rail Authority (RFF) and train-maker Alstom have been conducting tests and trials of the special train and TGV East track for weeks. The record was achieved on a stretch of track -- also specially modified for very high speeds -- between Preny, near Metz (Lorraine region), and Bezannes, near Reims (Champagne regions).

The French Railroads have been setting world rail speed records since 1954 -- at 151 mph, then 186 mph in 1955 and 320 mph in 1990.

"This is more than something just for the record books," explained Fabrice Morel, CEO of Rail Europe, SNCF's North American subsidiary and largest supplier of European rail products. "The tests conducted with the V150 train have provided valuable data to ensure the safety, comfort and environmental performance of trains operating at these very high speeds. Consider that in 1955 186 mph was a world speed record -- and today it is the standard operating speed of French TGVs and other other high-speed trains."


-- * TGV = Train a Grande Vitesse (France's high-speed train)
-- ** This is the world speed record for steel wheel-on-steel rail trains. Japan's maglev (magnetic levitation) train set the speed record for non-contact trains in 2003 at 361 mph.

See also:

Is Energy-Guzzling TGV the Wrong Answer?

Business Week/Der Spiegel: April 5, 2007

So the French-manufactured train broke all kinds of speed records, but at what environmental and safety costs?

* Slide Show: Europe on a Fast Track

Trains will never travel as fast as commercial air planes -- that's a certainty. But certainty can be challenged -- as French train company SNCF has consistently demonstrated.

On Tuesday, SNCF set a new world speed record on rail when a special TGV train barrelled down new tracks east of Paris, reaching a top speed of 574.8 kilomters (357 miles) per hour. The previous record of 515.3 kilometers per hour had also been set by a French TGV train.

The aim of the record high-speed train trip on Tuesday, according to an official statement by French TGV manufacturer Alstom, was to demonstrate the "highly promising future in the domain of very high-speed rail transport." But more than anything else, the lightning-fast race down the tracks merely illustrated just how frivolously advanced train technology can be put to use. No railway company in the world is seriously considering putting trains that travel at such high speeds into regular passenger service.

The French spent no small amount of money on the spectacle. The electricity required to operate the train strained the rail line's power grid almost to the breaking point. The overhead electrical lines and a large part of the train's propulsion system "can for all intents and purposes be junked" after a trip like Tuesday's, an engineer at the German train manufacturer Siemens claims.

A costly joyride

All told, the conspicuous high-speed trip is believed to have cost Alstom, SNCF and train track owner RFF about €30 million ($40 million). For the trip, the French built a customized TGV with strengthened end cars and extra power that came from underfloor engines in the middle wagon. The total output of about 20 megawatts is more than twice that of the most powerful trains currently in use. Of course, there's a basic law of physics at play here: When speed doubles, drag quadruples -- and energy consumption rises accordingly.

The energy-devouring high-speed train is symptomatic of France's relationship to railway technology, which is shaped less by an ecological conscience than by sheer faith in technological progress.

When SNCF introduced the first high-speed trains back in 1981, it had a head start on German national railway Deutsche Bahn -- which only started service on its ICE trains a decade later. The introduction last month of new tracks connecting Paris with Strasbourg in eastern France has extended the French high-speed rail network to a total length of almost 2,000 kilometers. By comparison, Germany -- where numerous low mountain ranges and the bureaucratic jungle that comes with the country's federalist system obstruct railroad planning -- has only about 1,000 kilometers of high-speed tracks, leaving the country with a network that is far from complete.

This often makes Deutsche Bahn and train-builders Siemens and Bombardier look a bit shabby compared to Germany's western neighbor. Indeed, many in the German industry looked to Tuesday's record-breaking trip with a corresponding degree of displeasure. Ansgar Brockmeyer, who is responsible for trainsets at Siemens, takes snipes at the project, noting that "only protoypes or specially equipped test vehicles" were used.

The transportation division of German-based engineering and electrical engineering giant Siemens does at least hold its own world record -- in the area of serially produced trains. The Velaro E, an updated version of the most recent Intercity Express (ICE) train, achieved a top speed of 403.7 kilometers per hour about six months ago. When it goes into service, it will travel between Madrid and Barcelona at maximum speeds of 350 kilometers an hour -- a world record for scheduled passenger service.

The Velaro is equipped with 8.8 megawatts of propulsive capacity, 10 percent more than the sister model ICE3, which is in use in Germany. This propulsive capacity allows the Velaro to travel the 625 kilometer distance between Madrid and Barcelona in two-and-a-half hours.

Air travel will likely end soon on this route as has happened when travel times have been massively reduced between other major cities by high-speed rail, like Berlin and Hamburg -- to the benefit of both the environment and the climate.

Siemens estimates that the train, assuming it is carrying an average load of passegners, will emit only 30 kilograms of carbon dioxide per passenger. The figure for air travel along the same route is 85 kilograms per passenger.

But how much faster can trains travel before they lose their benefits for the environment? Aerodynamics experts at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the country's space agency, believe the acceptable limits of technical viability are reached at a speed of about 400 kilometers per hour.

That figure is the benchmark, in any case, for a research project that Sigfried Loose, a Göttingen-based DLR aerodynamics expert, is working on together with Canadian train manufacturer Bombardier. The project is called "Next Generation Train" and it is meant to set the stage for the train of the future. That train will be "faster, lighter, safer and at the same time quieter," pledges DLR chairman Johann-Dietrich Wörner. Of course, he knows well that the goals he is announcing tend to be mutually exclusive in physics.

Loose's main goal consists in eliminating so-called "show stoppers" -- serious problems whose solution is an absolute precondition for further speed increases. The greatest problem is the danger of crosswinds, he says.

At the very latest, the recent gale-force winds of the storm " Kyrill" that forced Deutsche Bahn to suspend train travel in some regions, showed German people that one of the major factors of fear of flying also applies to train travel. Up until now, the only cases of trains being blown off the tracks have happened with lighter commuter trains. Narrow-gauge trains have even been known to topple over while standing still, but usually without causing any serious harm to people.

A complete ICE train weighs more than 800 tons. It's not likely to be knocked over by wind blasts -- at least not while standing still. But things change when a train is traveling at 350 kilometers per hour. At those speeds, the head of the train is exposed to considerably less gravitational pull and could actually topple if hit by an abrupt crosswind. Aerodynamics experts have already calculated this effect in models: It could lead to a train disaster of a similar magnitude to the 1998 ICE crash in Eschede, Germany that killed 101 and injured 105.

Safety measures

A number of safety precautions are in place to prevent such a disaster from happening. High-speed train tracks are lined with wind-protection fences in especially critical areas. And SNCF has set up a warning system along the southern Marseille-bound route, where strong mistral winds lurk, so that such strong winds can be noticed in time and train speeds reduced if necessary.

In addition, safety authorities like Germany's Federal Train Agency require train manufacturers to prove that their trains are resistant to crosswinds of a pre-defined force when traveling at maximum speed. Resistance to crosswinds moving at 28.8 meters (94.5 feet) per second -- the equivalent of wind force 11 on the Beaufort scale -- is considered the standard.

Modern high-speed trainsets "are already reaching their limits in this regard," says Alexander Orellano, the leading aerodynamics expert at train manufacturer Bombardier. In the trainsets for the most recent ICE models in Germany, the engine is distributed underfloor along the length of the train and there are no separate locomotives at the train ends. This makes the head of the train even more sensitive to gusts.

But the advantages the motorized trainsets bring with them -- better traction and considerably higher passenger capacity -- are pushing all major train manufacturers to develop them. Even Alstom -- a company that swore by conservative and robust locomotive trains up until now - will soon present its first motorized train sets in the form of TGV's successor, the AGV. But no information has been unveiled yet about the new train's aerodynamic characteristics or wheel load.

Designing the train of tomorrow

ICE manufacturers still resort to the solution of applying steel plates to the ends of the train in order to make them heavier. It's a simple solution -- and one that contradicts DLR's goal of reducing overall train weight. Loose envisions a train that is 30 percent lighter than today's trains while still resting stably on the tracks.

Model trains the size of those produced for train fans by German toy company Märklin and DLR's wind tunnels are the tools he uses in his research. The model trains are sometimes specially produced by him and sometimes purchased in toy shops and subsequently re-worked until they have the shape needed. The wind tunnels are among the best facilities in the world and use extreme refrigeration and compression to make air so dense that even model tests yield realistic results.

The physicist wants to present a first train model towards the end of the year. It will probably be equipped with spoilers not unlike those found on the front of race cars. As far as the basic shape of the head of the train is concerned, a number of very different variants are being discussed. Loose needs to bear in mind an additional phenomenon that train producers largely disregarded until now: the sonic boom in tunnels.

Trains thrust into tunnels like the piston of a bicycle pump, creating a pressure wave that races ahead of the vehicle at the speed of sound. This can lead to a thunderlike sound at the end of the tunnel, similar to that caused by planes traveling faster than the speed of sound. In Japan, where homes are often built close to train tracks, this phenomenon has caused windows to shatter.

Furthermore, part of the pressure wave returns into the tunnel with negative pressure and then races past the passengers in the approaching train. The acoustic effect, similar to that of a slap in the face, becomes all the more painful the faster the train's speed and the narrower the tunnel.

But tunnels are becoming narrower: For security reasons, only single passageway tunnels are being dug out, and the cross section has decreased from 90 square meters to 60. As Loose says: "That will be unbearable for passengers traveling in today's trains even at a speed of 300 kilometers an hour."

See also:

Mon Dieu! So fast it was terrifying

The Times: April 4, 2007
Ben Webster

Our correspondent was the only British journalist on board the French TGV train as it hit 357mph on yesterday’s record-breaking ride into the unknown.

At 357mph, it was impossible to focus on anything within a mile of the train. Even distant hilltop villages flashed past in a second.

The sense of flying across the landscape of the Champagne region was accentuated by being on the top deck of the TGV train.

Engineers had laboured for months to ensure precision to the millimetre in the track geometry, but we still lurched alarmingly. The train seemed to rise from the tracks for one terrifying moment.

We were travelling twice as fast as a passenger jet at the point of take-off, but there were no seatbelts. At that speed, they wouldn’t have saved us anyway.

As the only British journalist on board, I was determined not to show how frightened I was. The assembled French media, politicians and rail bosses seemed to love every second and showed no trace of fear. But then they have absolute faith in the safety of their high-speed lines, with no passenger fatalities in 26 years of operation. I have reported on six crashes that have caused a total 60 deaths on Britain’s so-called fast lines in the past decade and none of the trains was travelling at faster than 125mph.

The most disturbing feature of this journey was not knowing how fast we would go. There had been rumours that the French would try to exceed the 361mph that was achieved by a magnetically levitated Japanese train. But the maglev floats above its concrete guide-way and is far smoother and quieter than wheels on rails.

The speed was displayed in kilometres per hour on screens above our heads and there were cheers as we broke 500km/h (310mph). The cheers grew louder as we edged past the world rail-speed record, set by a TGV in 1990, of 515.3km/h. Then an extra surge pushed us up to 570km/h. We hovered around that speed for about two minutes as the driver seemed to seek one final burst of acceleration.

A camera on the roof showed white flashes on the overhead power lines, from which we were drawing 19.6MW, more power than is used by all the cars that start a grand prix race.

The sense of being on the edge of a void was heightened by the knowledge that, in test runs, this train had taken ten miles to stop after the brakes were fully applied at 506km/h.

There were 40 technicians on board, but none could tell exactly how the train would behave above 350mph, especially in a fairly strong crosswind.

When we slowed to 200mph, which will be the standard speed when the Paris-to-Strasbourg line opens for service in June, it felt like a jaunt on the St Ives branch line.

The record had cost €30 million (£20 million) and taken a year to plan, but none of the French media asked questions about cost yesterday. No one even mentioned that the €5 billion high-speed eastern line, which links Paris and Germany, had been approved despite official predictions that it would never make a profit. Our souvenir tickets had been stamped with the phrase L' excellence française and it would be impossible to put a price on the national pride beaming from every French face on board and reflected in those of the thousands who lined the route.

Fast track

— The Shinkansen Nozomi travels the 325 miles (525km) between Tokyo and Kyoto in 2hr 10min at a cruising speed of 186mph

— The maglev train from Shanghai city centre to Pudong airport has a cruising speed of 248mph and a top speed of 311mph for its 19-mile journey

— The TGV train travels the 285 miles from Paris to Strasbourg at a cruising speed of 200mph

— The fastest rail journey in Britain took place from Glasgow to Euston last September. The Virgin Trains Pendolino covered the distance in less than four hours at an average speed of 102.5mph

Source: Times database