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This Friday, Emmanuel Macron must blow out the 40 candles of the SNCF fetish train, launched by Georges Pompidou, built under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and inaugurated, on September 22, 1981, by François Mitterrand between Paris and Lyon.

A more comfortable and environmentally friendly “TGV of the future”

The Head of State must, in particular, unveil a full-size model of the motor of the TGV M, long called “TGV of the future”, that the public company intends to put on the rails in 2024.

This new TGV ordered from Alstom will not be faster than the last trains running on the French network – 320 km / h -, but the SNCF wants it more comfortable, more flexible, more ecological, more economical.

With the TGV, the SNCF has changed the lives of the French

Since 1981, the group has bought 549 trainsets for around 15 billion euros, notes its CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou. “In total, SNCF has invested more than 100 billion euros for the TGV. It is a considerable investment in the service of the French economy and the territories. With the TGV, the SNCF has created wealth and changed the lives of the French, ”he explains. But this massive investment also weighed on the accounts of the company, whose huge debt has long been a concern.

“Democratization of speed”

Mireille Faugère, who ran high-speed activities for a long time, believes that the TGV saved the train in France, giving it a big facelift. “High speed has completely put passenger rail back into the world of transport. I think the main lines would have disappeared if it hadn’t been for high speed. At that time, everyone was looking towards the air and the car, ”she notes.

The TGV put Paris at 2 h 40 from Lyon in 1981, then 2 h in 1983, against 3 h 40 for the fastest trains previously. And attendance soared from 7.2 million travelers in 1982 to 20.1 million in 1991 and 40.8 million in 2012.

(François Destoc)

For Florence Brachet Champsaur, head of the heritage service at the SNCF, the TGV is also synonymous with “democratization of speed”. “The fastest trains were often reserved for business customers, in first class with supplement,” she recalls. “The TGV revolution also means having trains all day long and more seats in second than first”.

Democratization, of course, but also after a few years, the introduction of pricing often considered too expensive – until recent corrections.

Compatible with the rest of the network

One of the keys to the TGV’s success is also to be compatible with the rest of the network: trains can continue their journey beyond new lines, such as to Toulouse, Geneva or Nice.

This flexibility has made it possible to gradually weave the web of TGVs from Paris, to the Atlantic, the North, the South-East, the East, the Benelux, Great Britain … With an (imperfect) bypass of the capital allowing fairly rapid province-province connections, but the elimination of many cross-roads, and a much poorer service to many small towns.

Guillaume Durand, transport specialist at Wavestone, sees the TGV “as a tool that has brought cities closer together, in France and in Europe, and fundamentally reshaped the accessibility of certain territories”.

“SNCF at two speeds”

According to him, this Alstom train is also “an industrial flagship, a pure product of French engineering – just like nuclear power or the Ariane rocket – which has evolved over the decades”, as well as a clean mode of transport.

The other side of the coin: the rise of the TGV has created a “two-speed SNCF”, with high-speed lines (LGV) being the subject of all attention to the detriment of the rest of the conventional network and daily trains.

This is why, in 2017, Emmanuel Macron announced a “pause” in the construction of LGV. But now is the time to relaunch certain projects, starting with Bordeaux-Toulouse and Montpellier-Perpignan.

2,700 km of high-speed lines

The French high-speed network currently extends over 2,700 km, the fourth in the world after those of China, Spain and Japan.




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