Operations TGV 117 and TGV 140 (the numbers refer to target speeds in
meters per second) were carried out by SNCF (Société
Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français, the French National
Railways) from November of 1989 to May of 1990. They came as a followup
to the previous round of testing, operation TGV 100, which had left off in
1981 with an earlier speed record of 380 km/h (236 mph) set by TGV Sud-Est
trainset number 16. The culmination of these test programs was a new
world speed record of 515.3 km/h (320.3 mph), set on 18 May 1990.
Photo credit: unknown
TGV Atlantique trainset 325, making its fastest run on 18 May 1990
... on preparations made to the stretch of track on which the record
runs were carried out.
... on modifications made to TGV Atlantique trainset 325 to make it
capable of reaching very high speeds.
Chronology of the Record Runs
... a day-by-day chronology of the 1989 and 1990 high speed test campaigns,
which resulted in the new world speed record on 18 May 1990.
Photo credit: B. Vignal
The previous record: TGV PSE trainset 16, running at 380 km/h (236 mph)
on 26 February 1981.
A new world speed record was only a secondary objective of the test
program. The test runs were primarily intended to generate a wealth of
high speed data, to be applied toward the further development of high
speed rail. TGV Atlantique trainset number 325, "hot-rodded" for a few
months of testing, was pushed to its limits, of course within stringent
safety tolerances imposed at the outset. The testing was also intended as
a strong proof of concept, to establish that the limits of steel wheel on
steel rail technology were far from being reached.
Running at over 500 km/h (311 mph) with a specially prepared trainset on
brand new track is an accomplishment, but one should not expect such
speeds to be possible in commercial service anytime soon. François
Lacôte, the head of TGV research and development, remarks: "It is
one thing to know the limits of brand new equipment, but quite another to
make it last 35 years with acceptable maintenance costs." It is
however forseeable that future TGV designs could run in revenue service at
speeds of 360 km/h (224 mph)... "on the condition that it be
economically viable, and that a braking system be developped to bypass
wheel-rail contact," says Roger Gérin, joint TGV production
director. High speed rail technology is quickly evolving, and will soon
provide the ingredients for yet faster trains. These developments are due
in large part to pushing the envelope on existing equipment, as was done
in the high speed runs described hereafter.
In short, the record was not a one-shot publicity stunt.
Publicity was only a secondary objective, which took the back seat to
serious engineering research over a several month period of high speed
runs. 325 was returned to its normal state after the test campaign, and
its only distinguishing features today are comemorative plaques (as shown
at the top of this page) and a blue
stripe across the nose.
Note: Most of the information in these files is taken more or less directly
from a special issue of the French weekly
La Vie du Rail (see bibliography).
I paraphrased the articles in English, and tried to
tone down the dramatic and sometimes a bit patriotic slant of the writing. The pictures
were scanned from various issues of LVDR, and are duly credited to the
original photographer. The scans are of relatively poor quality, which
does nicely to protect LVDR's copyright.
Title photo by Didier Egiole