France celebrates 40 years of TGV
On 22 September 1981, French President François Mitterrand inaugurated the first high-speed rail TGV connection between Paris and Lyon. Since then, the revolution in passenger transport has affected short-haul air travel and the whole landscape of travel in France and neighboring countries. As the French rail celebrates forty years of its high-speed train, development is undergoing TGV M’s future.
“The high-speed train has completely put passenger rail back into the transport world. I think that the main lines would have disappeared if it hadn’t been for high-speed, especially at the time when everyone was focused on airplanes and cars,” explains Mireille Faugère, former TGV manager at the SNCF, to the AFP.
Speed is key
While trains were popular before the war, everyone saw a future made of cars and supersonic planes such as the Concorde in the sixties. However, the French rail operator was planning on a turbine-powered high-speed train. Hindered by the oil crisis in the 70s, the project switched to electricity and sped up to beat the record in 1981 with a top speed of 380 km/hour.
In the ten years that followed the inauguration of the first TVG line between Paris and Lyon in 1981, yearly traffic went from 10 to 17 million passengers a year. In 1989 and 1990, SNCF put two other lines in service on the Atlantic side of France, bringing Nantes and Bordeaux two and three hours away from Paris.
Impact on air
The popularity of the TGV affected air transport. At the time, Air France was losing 90% of its clientele, and passenger transport for short-haul flights was at 50%. Today, with climate issues, TGV is seen as the greener alternative to air transport. Last year, under the government’s order in the Climate Law of July, Air France had to shut down its short-haul flight service where a TGV trip of less than two and a half hours exists.
Between the nineties and today, high-speed train offers have grown drastically, not always under the name of TGV. The electric-powered bogie-styled train cars are also running under the Channel as the Eurostar and between Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam as the Thalys. All in all, yearly passenger transport grew from 7,2 million in 1982, to 20,1 million in 1991, and 40,8 million in 2012.
“TGV is the synonym of high-speed democracy. Faster trains were often reserved for business clients, in first-class. The revolution of the TGV is also to be found in the fact that it’s daily service and there are more places in second than in first-class,” notes Florence Brachet Champsaur, head of the SNCF’s heritage department, reported by the AFP.
TGV M for 2024
For many years, the SNCF and previous legislators were under fire, criticized to favor high-speed lines to the detriment of the rest of the rail. At the beginning of his presidency, Emmanuel Macron focused on daily train service, stopping the TGV development. However, things have changed. In April, Prime Minister Castex promised 6,5 billion euros for new high-speed lines. Alstom is also arms deep in developing the new TGV M, to be launched in 2024.
But the coronavirus has put a fork in the SNCF’s cash cow. With the increase of telework, experts wonder if new TGV lines are still necessary. Furthermore, the national rail operator will soon lose its monopoly, opening the rail to the competition. The SNCF has recently launched its low-cost TGV service Ouigo on the historic Paris-Lyon line to counter that effect.