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A Réseau-class 2nd-generation TGV train at Marseille St-Charles station.
A Réseau-class 2nd-generation TGV train at Marseille St-Charles station.

The TGV is France's train à grande vitesse; literally "high-speed train". Developed by Alstom and SNCF, and operated by SNCF, the French national railway company, it connects cities in France, especially Paris, and in some other neighbouring countries, such as Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. TGVs or trains in some way derived from TGV design also operate in the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. TGV trains are manufactured primarily by Alstom, now often with the involvement of Bombardier.

The TGV is a passenger train, except for a small series of TGVs used for postal freight between Paris and Lyon, France.



The idea of the TGV was first proposed in the 1960s. The first prototype, known as TGV 001, was powered by gas turbines and generated its own electricity from oil, but after the 1973 energy crisis and the consequent sharp rise in the price of oil this was deemed impractical. The first fully electric prototype was completed in 1974, with the final version delivered in 1980 and the service opened to the public between Paris to Lyon on September 27, 1981.

Since then, dedicated lines to Tours/Le Mans, Calais, Brussels and Marseille have opened. A line to Strasbourg is under construction, as are dedicated high-speed lines to London (see Channel Tunnel Rail Link), Cologne and Amsterdam. Further extensions into Spain and Italy are planned for the future.

The TGV is not the world's first commercial high-speed service, as the Japanese Shinkansen connected Tokyo and Osaka from October 1, 1964, nearly 17 years before the first TGVs entered commercial operations.

Tracks and stations

The TGV is one of the fastest commercially operating conventional trains in the world. Under test conditions, the TGV has reached speeds of 515.3 km/h (320.2 mph), setting a world record in 1990.

The TGV runs on dedicated tracks known as LGV (ligne à grande vitesse, "high-speed line"), allowing speeds of up to 320 km/h in normal operation on the newest lines. TGV trains can also run on conventional tracks, but only at slower speeds. They now serve around 200 destinations in France and abroad.

The Avignon TGV station.
The Avignon TGV station.

The LGVs are similar to normal railway lines, but:

  • they use long welded rails in place of the older shorter rails, making the ride very comfortable at high speeds, without the usual 'cliquety-clack' vibrations induced by rail joints, still common in countries using older track technologies;
  • the power supply is always 25 kV AC on the high-speed lines;
  • signalling is done via electrical pulses going through the rails, giving indications (speed, target speed, stop/go) directly to the train driver through dashboard-mounted visual indicators rather than lineside signals; trains are under the driver's control, though there are safeguards against driver errors that can safely bring the train to a stop.

The LGVs do not replace conventional tracks, but instead complement them. LGVs only support high-speed traffic, and especially are not used for freight trains (except for TGV high-speed postal freight).

A strong point of the TGV in comparison to magnetic levitation trains is that older tracks may be used without special improvements; this is especially important when serving railway stations inside city centers (Paris's or Lyon's stations, or Dijon's station are good examples). However, there has been a tendency to build stations serving smaller cities in suburban areas or in the open countryside some miles away from the town, so as to be able to make a stop without incurring too great a time penalty. In some cases, such as the station serving Montceau-les-Mines and Le Creusot , the station was built in the middle between the two towns. Another example is the Haute Picardie station between Amiens and Saint-Quentin. This latter one was rather controversial, criticized in the press and by local government as too far from either town to be useful, and sited near a trunk road rather than a connecting railway line: it was often nicknamed 'la gare des betteraves', 'the station for beetroot'.

A number of major new railway stations were built, some of which have been major architectural achievements in their own right. Avignon TGV station (left), opened in 2001, has won particular praise as one of the most remarkable stations on the network, with a spectacular 340m-long glazed roof that has led to the building being compared to a cathedral.

Rolling stock

Six distinct types of TGV trains operate on French lines:

Type: TGV Sud-Est
Entrance into service: 1981
Composition: 2 driving cars, 8 carriages
Mass: 385 tonnes
Length: 200 m
Width 2.81m
Max. speed: 300 km/h
Power: 6,450 kW
Capacity: 345 seats
Note: A special version of this TGV, without seats and painted yellow, is in service for the postal freight of La Poste.
Type: TGV Atlantique
Entrance into service: 1989
Mass: 444 tonnes
Composition: 2 driving cars, 10 carriages
Length: 237.5 m
Width 2.9m
Max. speed: 300 km/h
Power: 8,800 kW
Capacity: 485 seats
Type: TGV Réseau
Entrance into service: 1993
Mass: 383 tonnes
Composition: 2 driving cars, 8 carriages
Length: 200 m
Width 2.81m
Max. speed: 300 km/h
Power: 8,800 kW
Capacity: 377 seats
Type: Eurostar
Entrance into service: 1994
Mass: 752 tonnes
Composition: 2 driving cars, 18 carriages
Length: 394 m
Max. speed: 300 km/h
Power: 12,200 kW
Capacity: 766 seats
Type: TGV Duplex
Entrance into service: 1996
Mass: 386 tonnes
Composition: 2 driving cars, 8 carriages
Length: 200 m
Max. speed: 300 km/h
Power: 8,800 kW
Capacity: 512 seats
Entrance into service: 2006
Mass: 423 tonnes
Composition: 2 driving cars, 8 TGV Réseau carriages
Length: 200 m
Max. speed: 320 km/h
Power: 9,600 kW
Capacity: 375 seats

One complication is the multiple types of power supplies that the trains must accommodate. French TGVs must accommodate 1500 V DC (older lines, especially around Paris) as well as 25 kV AC (newer lines, including LGV). Trains crossing the border into Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and England must accommodate foreign voltages. This has led to the construction of tri-current or even quadri-current locomotives. Eurostar TGVs have an additional complication, in that the trains collect their power from overhead lines for most of the way but have to rely on a third rail system during their journey through the London suburbs.


France has around 1,200 km of TGV track built over the past 20 years, with four new lines either proposed or under construction.

Existing lines

  1. LGV Sud-Est (Paris-Gare de Lyon to Lyon-Perrache), the first LGV (opened 1981)
  2. LGV Atlantique (Paris to Tours and Le Mans) (opened 1990)
  3. LGV Nord Europe (Paris-Gare du Nord to Lille and Brussels and on towards London, Amsterdam and Cologne) (opened 1993)
  4. LGV Méditerranée (An extension of Sud-Est: Lyon to Marseille-Saint-Charles) (opened 2001)

Planned lines

  1. LGV Est (Paris-Strasbourg) (under construction, to open 2006)
  2. LGV Rhin-Rhône (Strasbourg-Lyon)
  3. Barcelona-Perpignan-Montpellier, which would connect the TGV to the Spanish AVE network
  4. Lyon-Chambéry-Turin, which would extend the TGV into Italy
  5. Tours-Bordeaux and Le Mans-Rennes, extending the Atlantique line
  6. Bordeaux-Toulouse-Narbonne

Amsterdam and Cologne are already served by Thalys TGV trains running on ordinary track, though these connections are being upgraded to high-speed rail. London is presently served by Eurostar TGV trains running at high speeds via the partially-completed Channel Tunnel Rail Link and then at normal speeds along regular tracks through the London suburbs.

TGV outside France

TGV technology has been adopted in a number of other countries:


TGV lines have largely replaced air traffic between connected cities. BrusselsParis in 90 minutes has increased commuting between the two capitals, and likewise the Paris–Marseille line greatly reduced travel time recently. Towns such as Tours are becoming a part of "TGV commuter belt".

External links

Last updated: 10-19-2005 13:27:38
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