The Null Device

The TGV turns 25

25 years ago this Friday, France opened its first TGV train line, from Paris and Lyons. The arrival of the high-speed train lines (which now run at up to 320km/h, nearly twice as fast as the fastest train in Britain) has profoundly changed the psychogeography of France, effectively shrinking the country to a more conveniently traversable size:
The 1,250-mile (2,010km) TGV network, a product of the French tradition of centralised power and state engineering, has transformed life, bringing cities such as Tours, 230 miles from Paris, within commuting range. A daily season ticket on that TGV route costs £390 a month. Between Paris and Lille (127 miles each way), daily commuting costs £415 a month. Vendôme, 260 miles to the southwest of the capital, has become a dormitory town. About 400,000 people use the TGV for daily work.
"The TGV is the Concorde plus commercial success," Clive Lamming, a railway historian who wrote the Larousse des trains et des chemins de fer encyclopaedia, told The Times. "The TGV has virtually reduced France to one big suburb. This has increased the independence of businesses from Paris. Workers are more mobile and their costs are less."
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Paris-Lyons TGV line, the SNCF (France's state railway company) is opening the new TGV-Est line from Paris to Strasbourg, which will make the journey in 2 hours and 20 minutes (it is presently 4 hours).

It is unlikely that anything like the TGV will happen in Britain. The technical efficiency of the TGV is a result of the sort of overengineering that happens in systems shielded from the ruthless optimisations of the marketplace. In Britain, however, where the railways are privatised and the maximisation of profits and cutting of expenses is paramount, the system would never be so uneconomical as to invest in dedicated high-speed railway lines which inefficiently lie idle when not being traversed by high-speed trains, rather than being used for goods and short-distance traffic. And then, of course, there is the proud Anglo-Saxon tradition of underinvestment in infrastructure to uphold.

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