Thundering through France at 357mph

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Tue, 2007-04-03 22:29

Ben Webster (the Times journalist, not the great saxophonist) reports from a speeding train -- and this was a train that set a new world speed record: a French TGV thundering through eastern France at 574.8kmh! That's about 150m per second! As Webster's report says, "blink and you miss it."

Just imagine being in the cab as this machine sped like a great steel arrow through the countryside . . .

Things streaked past -- a water tank, a tree, a shanty, a grain silo. They had a windshield-wiper motion: they were rising, describing a curve and dropping back. The telegraph wires ran a race with the train, rising and falling from pole to pole, in an even rhythm, like the cardiograph record of a steady heartbeat written across the sky.

She looked ahead, at the haze that melted rail and distance, a haze that could rip apart at any moment to some shape of disaster. She wondered why she felt safer than she had ever felt in a car behind the engine, safer here, where it seemed as if, should an obstacle rise, her breast and the glass shield would be first to smash against it. She smiled, grasping the answer: it was the security of being first, with full sight and full knowledge of one's course -- not the blind sense of being pulled into the unknown by some unknown power ahead. It was the greatest sensation of existence: not to trust, but to know.

Perceptive readers would recognise that quoted passage from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. What an experience that must have been; Rand the railway-lover would have eaten it up.

UPDATE: Not a bird, and not a plane -- and not exactly a train -- but as one commenter in Webster's piece points out, the Chinese Maglev achieved 580kph over four years ago, and regularly touches 430kph in service. Talk about a Shanghai surprise!

LINKS: Aboard the fastest TGV in the world - Ben Webster, Times Online
Dagny Taggart answers Kant - Peter Cresswell, SOLO
Excerpt, Atlas Shrugged, 'The John Galt Line' - Monart Pon

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It's not so simple, Sandi

Kenny's picture

The TGV has benefited from France's draconian compulsory purchase laws, i.e. similar to American eminent domain laws. British laws give more rights to property owners.

As southern Britain is more heavily populated than northern France, it is more difficult and expensive to obtain the necessary land to build high speed rail lines. There is also a lack of terminal capacity in London, hence Eurostar's move from Waterloo to St Pancras.

The French invested heavily in TGV at the expense of their rural services that are poor in quality compared to those in the UK and other parts of Europe. The TGV's capital and operational subsidies are huge in comparison too.

Those who hate property rights and love subsidising public transport adore the TGV. I prefer the privatised operations (with lower subsidy) in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Japan etc.

Locamotive Breath

Sandi's picture

On morning report a CNN reporter who was aboard the train, said it hit 578kmh and that the world record of 581kmh was set by a Japanese train; which is a different design (something along the lines of it floats on a cushion of air).

There was also comment that if we had such a line here, you could get from Auckland to Wellington in an hour and a half. Now wouldn't that be a an exceptionally wonderful thing. Who would want to deal with airports and the tedium of flight?

Having crossed under the Chunnel a few times, it is always very noticeable when arriving in France from England, its like giving your "horse its head". The increase in speed is dramatic compared to the speeds that British Rail can allow on their dodgy tracks.

How thrilling!

Olivia's picture

I find it amazing that the French have not had any fatalities in 26 years! Their technology is certainly a darn sight better than their cinema. I recently saw a wonderful documentary on the building of the Millau bridge - what a beauty! Now I have two good reasons to visit France one day. Smiling

Maglev Trains

Jason Quintana's picture

I had the opportunity to ride the Shanghai Maglev. The highest speed I remember seeing (they have a monitor showing travelers the speed progression) was 424 kph. Quite a ride! I believe there is a Japanese Maglev now that in the last year has achieved higher speeds then the Chinese version.

- Jason

Jason D. Quintana is not associated with the Ayn Rand Institute -- neither as a writer nor as a speaker.

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