American Railroads

News each weekday of American railroads. Our focus is on freight rail, but Amtrak and commuter rail are also essential ingredients. Nothing published on holidays.

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

TGVs now go into Germany

The final joint was welded in a new high-speed rail line between Paris and Germany yesterday as France celebrated the 25th anniversary of a train that has shrunk the map and transformed the life of the country.

Dominique de Villepin, the Prime Minister, was the official in charge at the ceremony at Chauconin-Neufmontiers, which finishes the $37.64 billion route of the TGV-Est, the eastern train à grande vitesse. Trains running at up to 200 mph will put Rheims within a 45-minute commute from Paris and bring Strasbourg within 2 hours 20 minutes instead of 4 hours.

The imminent arrival of the link has boosted property prices along its stops. It is likely to knock out airline services between Paris and Strasbourg and Metz, in the same way as it has taken most of the traffic between Marseilles, London and Brussels. The completion of the eastern line, which crosses the vineyards of Champagne, has been timed to coincide with festivities for the quarter century since the late President Mitterrand opened the first TGV, between Paris and Lyons, on September 22, 1981.

While France is beset by gloom and economic uncertainty, the TGV is being celebrated as a triumph of Gallic vision, with no match except for Japan’s older and less flexible network of Shinkansen.

“The legend goes on,” said Guillaume Pepy, the deputy chief of SNCF, the state railway, as politicians crowded in to share the credit. In another anniversary act, SNCF tested TGV trains at 225 mph on the Mediterranean line on Monday with a view to raising their cruising speed. (The fastest British trains do not exceed 125 mph). The 1,250-mile TGV network, a product of the French tradition of centralized 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 $734 a month. Between Paris and Lille (127 miles each way), daily commuting costs $781 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 project, which was launched by the late President Pompidou in 1974, has brought northern prosperity to the Mediterranean and Atlantic regions as well as opening them to weekend tourism from Paris. The opening of the service to Avignon and Aix-en-Provence in 2001 brought a flood of second-homebuyers into Provence, now under three hours from the capital.

“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 New York 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.”

The TGV runs on separate high-speed lines that keep it away from the mixed traffic on which fast trains in Britain and elsewhere operate.

Nashville commuter rail future still in doubt

Commuter rail service launched in Middle Tennessee this week after years of false starts and difficult hurdles. Despite commuter rail’s launch coming off seemingly without a hitch, it is still a social experiment for Nashville area residents that has just begun, The City Paper, Nashville, reported yesterday in an editorial.

In order to carry out the true vision of commuter rail for Middle Tennessee, tracks must run to all of Nashville’s contiguous counties. Only then can the program truly serve as the traffic mitigation tool as it was intended.

Metro and State officials have a difficult few years ahead of them when it comes to the mission of bringing mass transit to the Nashville area. The largest issue has been and will be where track for these other county lines would run. There has been talk in recent years of collaborating with freight rail giant CSX.

Either that or perhaps real financial commitment from state government is what is needed to make mass transit a reality. The question of whether or not the Tennessee DOT will get into the rail business is another major point looming over the real future of commuter rail beyond the Lebanon-to-Nashville short line.

All of these questions need to be answered with the taxpayers of the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical Area in mind. For instance, the commuter rail line launched this week had to scrape and claw simply to get passable insurance because of the project’s financing.

Another major question going forward is how much will local governments in the area have to subsidize the operating expenses of the rail lines compared to what operating revenue the trains will bring in through rider fees.

Certainly, with gas prices on the high side and Nashville continuing to grow, commuter rail will continue to be an attractive alternative for area residents. Local leaders need to be very up-front about future costs and the true direction and potential of a commuter rail system throughout Middle Tennessee.

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