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TGV Duplex in Paris's Gare de Lyon

The TGV (French: Train à Grande Vitesse, meaning high-speed train) is France's high-speed rail service, currently operated by SNCF Voyages, the long-distance rail branch of SNCF, the French national rail operator.

It was developed during the 1970s by GEC-Alsthom (now Alstom) and SNCF. Although originally designed to be powered by gas turbines, the TGV prototypes evolved into electric trains with the petrol crisis of 1973. Following the inaugural TGV service between Paris and Lyon in 1981 on the LGV Sud-Est (LGV (French: Ligne à Grande Vitesse, meaning high-speed line)), the TGV network, centred on Paris, has expanded to connect cities across France and in adjacent countries on both high-speed and conventional lines.

A TGV test train set the record for the fastest wheeled train, reaching 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) on 3 April 2007. As of mid 2011, scheduled TGV trains operate at the highest speeds in conventional train service in the world, regularly reaching 320 km/h (200 mph) on the LGV Est and the LGV Méditerranée.

A TGV service held the record for the fastest scheduled rail journey with a start to stop average speed of 279.4 km/h (173.6 mph), which was temporarily surpassed by the Chinese CRH service Harmony express on the Wuhan–Guangzhou High-Speed Railway from December 2009 until July 2011.

The success of the first line, the LGV Sud-Est, led to an expansion of the network, with new lines built in the south ( LGV Rhône-Alpes and LGV Méditerranée), west ( LGV Atlantique), north ( LGV Nord) and east ( LGV Est) of the country. Eager to emulate the success of the French network, neighbouring countries such as Belgium, Italy, Spain and Germany built their own high-speed lines. TGVs link with Switzerland, Italy, Germany and Belgium through the French network, with Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands through the Thalys network, and the Eurostar network links France and Belgium with the United Kingdom. Several lines are planned, including extensions within France and to surrounding countries. Cities such as Tours have become a part of a "TGV commuter belt".

In 2007, SNCF generated profits of €1.1 billion (approximately US$1.75 billion or £875 million) driven largely by higher margins on the TGV network.


A TGV driver's cab

The idea of the TGV was first proposed in the 1960s, after Japan had begun construction of the Shinkansen (also known as the bullet train) in 1959. At the time the French government favoured new technology, exploring the production of hovercraft and the Aérotrain air-cushion vehicle. Simultaneously, SNCF began researching high speed trains that would operate on conventional tracks. In 1976, the government agreed to fund the first line. By the mid-1990s, the trains were so popular that SNCF president Louis Gallois declared TGV "The train that saved French railways".


It was originally planned that the TGV, then standing for très grande vitesse ("very high speed") or turbine grande vitesse ("high-speed turbine"), would be propelled by gas turbine-electric locomotives. Gas turbines were selected for their small size, good power-to-weight ratio and ability to deliver high power over an extended period. The first prototype, TGV 001, was the only TGV constructed with this engine: following the increase in the price of oil during the 1973 energy crisis, gas turbines were deemed uneconomic and the project turned to electricity from overhead lines. The electricity was to be generated by France's new nuclear power stations.

TGV 001 was not a wasted prototype: its gas-turbine powerplant was only one of its many new technologies for high-speed rail travel. It also tested high speed brakes, needed to dissipate the large amount of kinetic energy of a train at high speed, high-speed aerodynamics, and signalling. It was articulated, i.e. two adjacent carriages shared a bogie, allowing free yet controlled motion with respect to one another. It reached 318 km/h (198 mph), which remains the world speed record for a non-electric train. Its interior and exterior were styled by British-born designer Jack Cooper, whose work formed the basis of early TGV designs, including the distinctive nose shape of the first power cars.

Changing the TGV to electric traction required a significant design overhaul. The first electric prototype, nicknamed Zébulon, was completed in 1974, testing features such as innovative body mounting of motors, pantographs, suspension and braking. Body mounting of motors allowed over 3 tonnes to be eliminated from the power cars and greatly reduced the unsprung weight. The prototype travelled almost 1,000,000 km (620,000 mi) during testing.

In 1976 the French government funded the TGV project, and construction of the LGV Sud-Est, the first high-speed line (French: ligne à grande vitesse), began shortly afterwards. The line was given the designation LN1, Ligne Nouvelle 1, (meaning New Line 1).

After two pre-production trainsets (nicknamed Patrick and Sophie) had been tested and substantially modified, the first production version was delivered on 25 April 1980.

Service history

The TGV opened to the public between Paris and Lyon on 27 September 1981. Contrary to its earlier fast services, SNCF intended the TGV service for all types of passengers, with the same ticket price as for trains running on the parallel conventional line. To counteract the popular misconception that the TGV would be another premium service for business travellers, SNCF started a major publicity campaign focusing on the speed, frequency, reservation policy, normal price, and broad accessibility of the service. This commitment to a democratised TGV service was further enhanced in the Mitterrand era with the promotional slogan "Progress means nothing unless it is shared by all". The TGV was considerably faster than normal trains, cars, or aeroplanes. The trains became widely popular, the public welcoming fast and practical travel.

Further LGVs have opened: the LGV Atlantique (LN2) to Tours/ Le Mans (construction begun 1985, in operation 1989); the LGV Nord-Europe (LN3) to Calais and the Belgian border (construction begun 1989, in operation 1993); the LGV Rhône-Alpes (LN4), extending the LGV Sud-Est to Valence (construction begun 1990, in operation 1992); and the LGV Méditerranée (LN5) to Marseille (construction begun 1996, in operation 2001). The LGV Est (LN6) from Paris to Strasbourg was inaugurated on 15 March 2007, and opened to the public in the summer of 2007. The LGV Perpignan-Figueras (LN7) opened on December 2010. And in 2011 the LGV Rhin-Rhône (LN8) first phase opening. In its first month of operation, more than 1,000,000 passengers traveled on the line. High speed lines based on LGV technology connecting with the French network have been built in Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

A TGV Duplex trainset coupled to a Reseau trainset leaving Paris Gare de Lyon

The Eurostar service began operation in 1994, connecting continental Europe to London via the Channel Tunnel with a version of the TGV designed for use in the tunnel and in the United Kingdom. The line used the LGV Nord-Europe from the outset. The first phase of the British High Speed 1 line, or Channel Tunnel Rail Link, was completed in 2003, and the second phase was completed in November 2007. The fastest trains take 2 hours 15 minutes on the London-Paris and 1 hour 51 minutes on the London-Brussels routes.


The TGV was the world's fourth commercial high speed train service and third standard gauge high speed train service, after Japan's Shinkansen, which first connected Tokyo and Osaka on 1 October 1964 (full service in 1975) and Russian ER200 around 1964 (full service in 1984), and Britain's InterCity 125, intended for the UK's main lines such as the East Coast Main Line and which entered service in 1976. The TGV currently holds the world speed record for conventional, wheel/rail trains. On 3 April 2007 a modified TGV POS train reached 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) under test conditions on the LGV Est.

TGV, Record runs

The voltage on the test track between Paris and Strasbourg was boosted to 31 kV and extra ballast was tamped onto the right-of-way. It beat the 1990 world speed record of 515.3 km/h (320.2 mph), set by a similarly shortened train (two power cars and three passenger cars), along with unofficial records set during weeks preceding the official record run. The test was part of an extensive research programme by Alstom.

The TGV was in 2007 the world's fastest conventional scheduled train: one journey's average start-to-stop speed from Lorraine-TGV to Champagne-Ardenne-TGV is 279.3 km/h (173.5 mph). This record was surpassed on December 26, 2009 by the newly opened Wuhan-Guangzhou High-Speed Railway in China where the fastest scheduled train covered 922 km (573 mi) at an average speed of 312.54 km/h (194.20 mph). However, on July 1, 2011 in order to save energy and reduce operating costs the maximum speed of Chinese high-speed trains was reduced to 300 km/h, and the average speed of the fastest trains on the Wuhan-Guangzhou High-Speed Railway was reduced to 272.68 km/h (169 mph), slower than the TGV.

A Eurostar train broke the record for the longest non-stop high-speed international journey in the world on 17 May 2006 carrying the cast and filmmakers of The Da Vinci Code from London to Cannes for the Cannes Film Festival. The 1,421-kilometre (883 mi) journey took 7 hours 25 minutes (average of 191.6 km/h (119.1 mph)).

The record for the fastest long distance run was set by a TGV Réseau train travelling from Calais-Frethun to Marseille (1067.2 km, 663 mi) in 3 hours 29 minutes (306 km/h (190 mph)) for the inauguration of the LGV Méditerranée on 26 May 2001.


On 28 November 2003 the TGV network carried its one-billionth passenger, second only to the Shinkansen's five billionth passenger in 2000.

Excluding international traffic, the TGV system had carried 98 million passengers during 2008, an increase of 8 million (9.1%) on the previous year.

Decade Passengers (in millions)
1980s 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
1.26 6.08 9.20 13.77 15.38 15.57 16.97 18.10 19.16
1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999
29.93 37.00 39.30 40.12 43.91 46.59 55.73 62.60 71.00 74.00
2000 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
79.70 83.50 87.90 86.70 90.80 94.00 97.00 114.00 122.00
2010 2010
  1. ^ from 1994 including Eurostar
  2. ^ from 1997 including Thalys


The newest high-speed lines allow speeds of up to 320 km/h (199 mph) in normal operation. Originally, LGVs were defined as lines permitting speeds greater than 200 km/h (124 mph). This guideline was subsequently revised to 250 km/h (155 mph). Like most high-speed trains in Europe, TGVs also run on conventional tracks (French: lignes classiques), at the normal maximum safe speed for those lines, up to a maximum of 220 km/h (137 mph). This allows them to reach secondary destinations or city centres without building new tracks all the way to the station, reducing costs compared to the magnetic levitation train solutions in Japan and China, for example, or complete high-speed networks with a different gauge than the surrounding conventional networks in Spain, for example.

Track design

TGV track construction is similar to that of normal railway lines, but with a few key differences. The radii of curves are larger so that trains can traverse them at higher speeds without increasing the centripetal acceleration felt by passengers. The radii of LGV curves have historically been greater than 4 km (2.5 mi). New lines have minimum radii of 7 km (4.3 mi) to allow for future increases in speed.

Lines used only for high-speed traffic can incorporate steeper gradients than normal. This facilitates the planning of LGVs and reduces their cost of construction. The high power/weight and adhesive weight/total weight ratios of TGVs allow them to climb much steeper grades than conventional trains. The considerable momentum at high speeds also helps to climb these slopes very fast without greatly increasing their energy consumption. The Paris-Sud-Est LGV has grades of up to 3.5% (on the German NBS high-speed line between Cologne and Frankfurt they reach 4%). On a line reserved for high-speed trains it is possible to have greater superelevation (tilt), since all trains are travelling at the same (high) speed and a train stopping on a curve because of a stop signal is a very rare event. Curve radii in high-speed lines have to be large, but increasing the superelevation allows for tighter curves while supporting the same train speed. Allowance for tighter curves can reduce construction costs by reducing the number and/or length of tunnels or viaducts and the volume of earthworks.

Track alignment is more precise than on normal railway lines, and ballast is in a deeper-than-normal profile, resulting in increased load-bearing capacity and track stability. LGV track is anchored by more sleepers or ties per kilometre than normal, and all are made of concrete, either mono- or bi-bloc, the latter consisting of two separate blocks of concrete joined by a steel bar. Heavy rail ( UIC 60) is used and the rails themselves are more upright, with an inclination of 1 in 40 as opposed to 1 in 20 on normal lines. Use of continuously welded rails in place of shorter, jointed rails yields a comfortable ride at high speed, without the "clickety-clack" vibrations induced by rail joints.

The points or switches on LGVs are different from those on the lignes classiques. Every LGV set of points incorporates a swingnose crossing (coeur à pointe mobile) or 'moveable point frog' which eliminates the gap in rail support as wheels of a train pass over the 'frog' of conventional points, causing shock and vibration. Eliminating shock and vibration makes the passage of a TGV over an LGV switch imperceptible to passengers, and reduces stresses on wheels and track. In addition, LGV switches permit much higher speeds. Crossover switches on LGV's permit a TGV to move from one track to the adjacent track at 160 km/h (99 mph). At junctions, such as the junction on the TGV Atlantique where the line to Le Mans diverges from the line to Tours, special points designed for higher speeds are installed which permit a diverging speed of 220 km/h (137 mph).

The diameter of tunnels is greater than normally required by the size of the trains, especially at entrances. This limits the effects of air pressure changes, which could be problematic at TGV speeds.

Traffic limitations

LGVs are reserved primarily for TGVs. One reason for this is that capacity is sharply reduced when trains of differing speeds are mixed. Passing freight and passenger trains also constitute a safety risk, as cargo on freight cars can be destabilised by the air turbulence caused by the TGV.

The axle load of trains permitted to operate on LGV lines in France is limited to 17 tons. Conventional trains hauled by locomotives are not allowed on French LGVs, since the axle load of a typical European electric locomotive exceeds 20 tons; however, this limitation is not imposed on high-speed lines in other countries, such as Germany. Freight trains are not permitted on French LGVs except for the mail trains run by the French postal service, using specially adapted TGV rolling stock. TGV 'power cars,' which are lightweight streamlined locomotives at both ends of TGV trainsets, satisfy the 17 ton limit. But when the double-deck TGV Duplex trains were introduced in the 1990s, special design efforts were needed (a 'hunt for kilograms,' chasse aux kilos) to reduce weight to ensure that the double-deck passenger cars conformed to the 17 ton limit. The 17 ton axle load limit is imposed to prevent heavyweight rolling stock from prematurely damaging the very accurate track alignment ('surface') on LGVs required for high-speed train operation.

The steep gradients common on LGVs would limit the weight of slow freight trains. Slower trains would also mean that the maximum track cant (banking on curves) would be limited, so for the same maximum speed, a mixed-traffic LGV would need to be built with curves of even larger radius. Such track would be much more expensive to build and maintain. Some stretches of less-used LGV are routinely mixed-traffic, such as the Tours branch of the LGV Atlantique, and the planned Nîmes/ Montpellier branch of the LGV Mediterranée. The British High Speed 1 from the Channel Tunnel to London has been built with passing loops to support freight use, but this facility has not been used.

Maintenance on LGVs is carried out at night, when no TGVs are running.

Outside France, LGV-type lines often carry non-TGV intercity traffic, often as a requirement of the initial funding commitments. The Belgian LGV from Brussels to Liège carries 200 km/h (124 mph) loco-hauled trains, with both the Dutch HSL-Zuid and British High Speed 1 planned to carry 225 km/h (140 mph) domestic intercity services and 300 km/h (186 mph) international services. The Channel Tunnel is not an LGV, but it uses LGV-type TVM signalling for mixed freight, shuttle and Eurostar traffic at between 100 and 160 km/h (60 and 100 mph). The " Standard Pathway" for path allocation purposes is the time taken by one of Eurotunnel's own Shuttle trains (maximum speed 140 km/h (87 mph)) to traverse the tunnel. A single Eurostar running at 160 km/h (99 mph) occupies 2.67 standard paths; a second Eurostar running at minimum distance (3 minutes) behind the first train only "costs" a single additional path, so Eurostar services are often flighted 3 minutes apart throughout from London to Lille and back. A freight train running at 120 km/h (75 mph) occupies 1.33 paths. A freight running at 100 km/h (62 mph) occupies 3 paths. This illustrates the problem of mixed traffic at different speeds.

Train Class Speed Paths
Eurostar 160 km/h 2⅔ "catches up" with earlier trains
Eurostar (average for two) 160 km/h 1 consecutive "flighted pair" at same speed
Eurotunnel Shuttle 140 km/h 1 optimal usage, all trains at same speed
Multi-modal freight 120 km/h 1⅓ "holds up" train behind it

Power supply

LGVs are all electrified at 25 kV 50 Hz AC. Catenary wires are kept at a greater mechanical tension than normal lines because the pantograph causes oscillations in the wire, and the [wave] must travel faster than the train to avoid producing standing waves that would cause the wires to break. This was a problem when rail speed record attempts were made in 1990; power wire tension had to be increased further still to accommodate train speeds of over 500 km/h (310 mph). On LGVs, only the rear pantograph is raised, avoiding amplification of the oscillations created by the front pantograph. The front power car is supplied by a cable running along the roof of the train. Eurostar trains are long enough that oscillations are damped sufficiently between the front and rear power cars (British designers were wary of running a high-power line through passenger carriages, explaining the centrally located locomotive in their ill-fated Advanced Passenger Train), so the two power cars could be connected without the high voltage cable being run through passenger vehicles – there is no interconnecting high-voltage cable along the 400 m length of the train. The same also applies when two TGVs run in multiple. On lignes classiques, slower maximum speeds prevent oscillation problems, and on DC lines both pantographs must be raised.


LGVs are fenced along their entire length to prevent trespassing by animals and people. Level crossings are not permitted and bridges over the line have sensors to detect objects that fall onto the track.

All LGV junctions are grade-separated, with tracks crossing each other using flyovers or tunnels, eliminating crossing other tracks on the level.


Signalling block marker

Because TGVs on LGVs travel too fast for their drivers to see and react to traditional lineside signals, an automated system called TVM, " Transmission Voie-Machine", "track-to-train transmission" in English, is used for signalling. Information is transmitted to trains by electrical pulses sent through the rails, providing speed, target speed, and stop/go indications directly to the driver via dashboard-mounted instruments. This high degree of automation does not eliminate driver control, though there are safeguards that can safely stop the train in the event of driver error.

A LGV line is divided into signal blocks of about 1500 m (≈1 mile) with the boundaries marked by blue boards with a yellow triangle. Dashboard instruments show the maximum permitted speed for the train's current block and a target speed based on the profile of the line ahead. The maximum permitted speed is based on factors such as the proximity of trains ahead (with steadily decreasing speeds permitted in blocks closer to the rear of the next train), junction placement, speed restrictions, the top speed of the train and distance from the end of the LGV. As trains cannot usually stop within one signal block, which can range in length from a few hundred metres to a few kilometres, drivers are alerted to slow gradually several blocks before a required stop.

Two versions of TVM signalling, TVM-430 and TVM-300, are in use on LGVs. TVM-430 was first installed on the LGV Nord to the Channel Tunnel and Belgium, and supplies trains with more information than TVM-300. Among other benefits, TVM-430 allows a train's onboard computer system to generate a continuous speed control curve in the event of an emergency brake activation, effectively forcing the driver to reduce speed safely without releasing the brake by displaying the Flashing Signal Aspects on the speedometer. Whenever the flashing signal is displayed, it means the driver is required to apply the brake and target speed will be more constrained at next block section. Hence, the driver may directly keep the brake application by those means.

The signalling system is normally permissive: the driver of a train is permitted to proceed into an occupied block section without first obtaining authorisation. Speed is limited to 30 km/h (19 mph) and if speed exceeds 35 km/h (22 mph), the emergency brake is applied. If the board marking the entrance to the block section is accompanied by a sign marked Nf, for non-franchissable, "non-crossable" in English, the block section is not permissive, and the driver must obtain authorisation from the PAR, "Poste d'Aiguillage et de Régulation", "Signalling and Control Centre" in English, before entering. Once a route is set or the PAR has provided authorisation, a white lamp above the board is lit to inform the driver. The driver acknowledges the authorisation using a button on the control panel. This disables the emergency braking, which would otherwise occur when passing over the ground loop adjacent to the non-permissive board.

When trains enter or leave LGVs from or to "lignes classiques", "conventional tracks" in English, they pass over a ground loop that automatically switches the driver's dashboard indicators to the appropriate signalling system. For example, a train leaving a LGV for a "ligne classique" has its TVM system deactivated and its traditional CVB, "Contrôle de Vitesse par Balises", "beacon speed control" in English, system enabled.

The most recent LGV Est is equipped with European Train Control System Level 2 signalling together with TVM-430. The LGV Est is already equipped with GSM-R radio communications which form one component of the European Rail Traffic Management System, and the communications-based ETCS Level 2 signalling system is the other component, which makes use of this radio communications network. Trains on the LGV Est can operate using either signalling system. Domestic TGV trains on the LGV Est operate using TVM-430, while TGV POS trainsets which operate into Germany use ETCS Level 2. The ETCS Level 2 and TVM-430 signal systems on the LGV Est both use the same block sections, but use different means (radio links for ETCS, and track-to-train transmission for TVM-430) to transmit signal information to trains. Since ERTMS is mandated for eventual adoption throughout the European Union, similar installations including ETCS signalling are expected on future "Lignes à Grande Vitesse".


The trainshed at Paris Gare de Lyon
Avignon TGV station
A TGV Réseau trainset 540 at Rennes, in Brittany
Eurostar and Thalys PBA side-by-side in Paris Gare du Nord
TGV and Thalys share a platform at Brussels-South railway station

One of the main advantages of TGV over other fast rail technologies such as magnetic levitation is that TGVs can take advantage of existing infrastructure. This makes connecting city centres (such as Paris- Gare de Lyon to Lyon-Perrache) by TGV a simple and inexpensive proposition. TGVs often use intra-city tracks and stations built for lower speed trains.

However, LGV route designers have tended to build new intermediate stations in suburban areas or in the open countryside several kilometers away from cities. This allows TGVs to stop without incurring too great a time penalty, since more time is spent on high speed track; in addition, many cities' stations are stub-ends, while LGV tracks frequently bypass cities. In some cases, stations have been built halfway between two communities. The station serving Montceau-les-Mines and Le Creusot is an example, and a more controversial example is Haute Picardie station, between Amiens and Saint-Quentin. The press and local authorities criticised Haute Picardie as being too far from either town to be convenient, and too far from connecting railway lines to be useful for travellers. The station was nicknamed la gare des betteraves, or 'beet station', as it was surrounded by sugar beet fields during construction. That said, the station is now used by a reasonable amount of people, especially impressive as it has no service to Paris (so not to extract passengers from the existing Amiens station). This nickname is now applied to similar stations away from town and city centres, whether in the vicinity of beet fields or not.

New railway stations have been built for TGV services, some of which are major architectural achievements in their own right. The Avignon TGV station, opened in 2001, has been praised as one of the most remarkable stations on the network, with a spectacular 340 m (1,115 ft)-long glazed roof that has been compared to that of a cathedral.

Rolling stock

TGVs are semi-permanently coupled articulated un-powered coaches, with Jacobs bogies between the coaches, supporting both of them. Power cars at each end of the trains have their own bogies. Trains can be lengthened by coupling two TGVs together, using couplers hidden in the noses of the power cars.

The articulated design is advantageous during a derailment, as the passenger carriages are more likely to stay upright and in line with the track. Normal trains, by contrast, may split at couplings and jack-knife, as seen in the Eschede train disaster.

A disadvantage of this carriage design is that it is difficult to split sets of carriages. While TGV power cars can be removed from trains by standard uncoupling procedures, specialised depot equipment is needed to split carriages, by lifting the entire train at once. Once uncoupled, one of the carriage ends is left without a bogie at the split, so a bogie frame is required to support it.

SNCF operates a fleet of about 550 TGVs. Seven types of TGV or TGV derivative currently operate on the French network; these are:

  • TGV Sud-Est (passengers) and TGV La Poste (freight),
  • TGV Atlantique (10 rather than 8 carriages)
  • TGV Réseau (similar to Atlantique, but only 8 carriages)
  • TGV TMST (Three Capitals and North of London),
  • TGV Duplex (two floors for greater passenger capacity),
  • Thalys PBA and PBKA (Benelux countries, derived from Réseau and Duplex respectively),
  • TGV POS (Paris-Ostfrankreich-Süddeutschland, or Paris-Eastern France-Southern Germany).
  • TGV 2N2 (upgrade of Duplex)

There have also been several prototype variants on the TGV design which have broken several records, such as the V150 and TGV 001. V150 was a specially modified five-car trainset reached 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph) under controlled conditions on a test run. The double decker TGV narrowly missed beating the overall world train speed record of 581 km/h (361 mph). The record-breaking speed is impractical for commercial trains due to motor overcharging, empty train weight, rail and engine wear issues, elimination of all but three coaches, excessive vibration, noise and lack of emergency stopping methods.

Normal TGV trainsets travel at up to 320 km/h (200 mph) in commercial use. All TGVs are at least bi-current, which means that they can operate at 25 kV, 50 Hz AC on newer lines (including LGVs) and at 1.5 kV DC on older lines (such as the 1.5 kV lignes classiques south of Paris). Trains crossing the border into Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands must accommodate other voltages, requiring tri-current and quadri-current TGVs. TGVs have two pairs of pantographs, two for AC use and two for DC use. When passing between areas of different supply voltage, marker boards remind the driver to turn off power to the traction motors, lower the pantograph(s), adjust a switch to select the appropriate system, and raise the pantograph(s). Pantographs and pantograph height control are selected automatically based on the voltage system chosen by the driver. Once the train detects the correct supply, a dashboard indicator illuminates and the driver can switch on the traction motors. The train coasts across the boundary between sections.

Equipment type Top speed
(km/h / mph)
Overall length
empty (t)
full (t)
25 kV (kW)
empty (W/kg)
TGV Sud-Est 270/170, initial
300/190, rebuilt
345 200/660 2.81/9.2 385 418 6,450 16.75 1978
TGV Atlantique* 300/190 485; 459 (rebuilt) 238/781 2.90/9.5 444 484 8,800 19.82 1988
TGV Réseau 320/200 377; 361 (rebuilt) 200/660 2.90/9.5 383 415 8,800 22.98 1992
TGV TMST Three Capitals 300/190 750 394/1,293 2.81/9.2 752 816 12,240 16.28 1993
TGV TMST North of London 300/190 596 319/1,047 2.81/9.2 665   12,240 18.41 1993
TGV Duplex 320/200 512 200/660 2.90/9.5 380 424 8,800 23.16 1994
Thalys PBKA 300/190 377; 374 (rebuilt) 200/660 2.90/9.5 385 415 8,800 22.86 1997
TGV POS 320/200 361 200/660 2.90/9.5 383 415 9,280 24.23 2005
TGV 2N2 320/200 509 200/660 2.90/9.5 380 424 9,400 24.74 2011

TGV Sud-Est

A TGV Sud-Est set in the original orange livery, since superseded by silver and blue
A TGV Réseau on an enhanced ordinary track
A TGV Réseau second-generation train at Marseille St-Charles

The Sud-Est fleet was built between 1978 and 1988 and operated the first TGV service, from Paris to Lyon in 1981. There are 107 passenger sets operating, of which nine are tri-current (including 15 kV, 16⅔ Hz AC for use in Switzerland) and the rest bi-current. There are also seven bi-current half-sets without seats that carry mail for La Poste between Paris, Lyon and Provence, in a distinctive yellow livery.

Each set is made up of two power cars and eight carriages (capacity 345 seats), including a powered bogie in each of the carriages adjacent to the power cars. They are 200 m (660 ft) long and 2.81 m (9.2 ft) wide. They weigh 385 tonnes with a power output of 6,450 kW under 25 kV.

Originally the sets were built to run at 270 km/h (170 mph) but most were upgraded to 300 km/h (190 mph) during mid-life refurbishment in preparation for the opening of the LGV Méditerranée. The few sets that still have a maximum speed of 270 km/h operate on those routes that include a comparatively short distance on LGV, such as to Switzerland via Dijon. SNCF did not consider it financially worthwhile to upgrade their speed for a marginal reduction in journey time.

TGV Atlantique

The Atlantique fleet was built between 1988 and 1992. 105 bi-current sets were built for the opening of the LGV Atlantique and entry into service began in 1989. They are 237.5 m (779 ft) long and 2.9 m (9.5 ft) wide. They weigh 444 tonnes, and are made up of two power cars and ten carriages with a capacity of 485 seats. They were built with a maximum speed of 300 km/h (190 mph) and 8,800 kW of power under 25 kV. The efficiency of the Atlantique with all seats filled has been calculated at 767 PMPG, though with a typical occupancy of 60% it is about 460 PMPG (a Toyota Prius with three passengers is 144 PMPG).

Modified unit 325 set the world speed record in 1990 on the new LGV before its opening. Various modifications, such as improved aerodynamics, larger wheels and improved braking, were made to enable speeds of over 500 km/h (310 mph). The set was reduced to two power cars and three carriages to improve the power-to-weight ratio, weighing 250 tonnes. Three carriages, including the bar carriage in the centre, is the minimum possible configuration because of the articulation.

TGV Réseau

The first Réseau (Network) sets entered service in 1993. Fifty bi-current sets were ordered in 1990, supplemented by an order for 40 tri-current sets in 1992/1993. Ten of the tri-current sets carry the Thalys livery and are known as Thalys PBA (Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam) sets. As well as using standard French voltages, the tri-current sets can operate under the Netherlands' 1.5 kV and Italian and Belgian 3 kV DC supplies.

They are formed of two power cars (8,800 kW under 25 kV – as TGV Atlantique) and eight carriages, giving a capacity of 377 seats. They have a top speed of 320 km/h. They are 200 m (660 ft) long and are 2.90 m (9.5 ft) wide. The bi-current sets weigh 383 tonnes: owing to axle-load restrictions in Belgium the tri-current sets have a series of modifications, such as the replacement of steel with aluminium and hollow axles, to reduce the weight to under 17 tonnes per axle.

Owing to early complaints of uncomfortable pressure changes when entering tunnels at high speed on the LGV Atlantique, the Réseau sets are now pressure-sealed. They can be also coupled to a Duplex set.


Eurostar at London St Pancras. These long trains connect London with Paris and Brussels.

The Eurostar train is essentially a long TGV, modified for use in the United Kingdom and in the Channel Tunnel. Differences include a smaller cross section to fit within the constrictive British loading gauge, British-designed asynchronous traction motors, and extensive fireproofing.

In the UK they are called Class 373. In the planning stages they were called TransManche Super Train (Cross-channel Super Train). They were built by GEC-Alsthom (now Alstom) in La Rochelle (France), Belfort (France) and Washwood Heath (England), entering service in 1993.

Two types were built: the Three Capitals sets, consisting of two power cars and 18 carriages, including two with one powered bogie each, and the North of London sets, consisting of two power cars and 14 carriages, again with two with one powered bogie each. Full sets of both types consist of two identical half-sets which are not articulated in the middle, so that in case of emergency in the Channel Tunnel one half can be uncoupled and leave the tunnel. Each half-set is numbered separately.

Thirty-eight full sets, plus one spare power car, were ordered: 16 by SNCF, four by NMBS/SNCB, and 18 by British Rail, of which seven were North of London sets. Upon privatisation of British Rail by the UK Government, the BR sets were bought by London and Continental Railways (LCR), whose subsidiary Eurostar (UK) Ltd was managed by a consortium of National Express (40%), SNCF (35%), SNCB (15%) and British Airways (10%) from 1998 to 2010. Following the merger of the separate Eurostar operators on 1 September 2010, ownership of all sets transferred to the single parent company, Eurostar International Limited.

The sets operate at a maximum speed of 300 km/h (190 mph), with the power cars supplying 12,240 kW of power. The Three Capitals sets are 394 m (1,293 ft) long and have 766 seats, weighing a total of 752 tonnes. The North of London sets have 558 seats. All are at least tri-current and are able to operate on 25 kV, 50 Hz AC (on LGVs, including High Speed 1, and on UK overhead electrified lines), 3 kV DC on lignes classiques in Belgium and 750 V DC on the UK former Southern Region third rail network. The third-rail system became obsolete in 2007 when the second phase of High Speed 1 was brought into use between London and the Channel Tunnel, as it uses 25 kV, 50 Hz AC exclusively. Five of the Three Capitals sets owned by SNCF are quadri-current and are able to operate on French lignes classiques at 1500 V DC.

The TGV Duplex power cars use a more streamlined nose than previous TGVs
TGV Duplex power car in profile
TGV Duplex trains have bi-level carriages
A Thalys PBKA at Köln Hauptbahnhof
Eurostar, Thalys and TGV PSE No 81 at Paris Gare du Nord

Three of the Three Capitals sets owned by SNCF are in French domestic use and carry the silver and blue TGV livery. The North of London sets, intended to provide direct regional Eurostar services from continental Europe to UK cities north of London, using the West Coast Main Line and the East Coast Main Line, have never seen regular international use: budget airlines in the UK offered lower fares. A few of the sets were leased to GNER for use on its White Rose service between London and Leeds, with two of them carrying GNER's dark blue livery. The lease ended in December 2005 and a year later the same sets found themselves working services to Calais in France for SNCF, remaining in the standard Eurostar livery, minus the logos.

The Chief Executive of Eurostar, Richard Brown, has suggested that the trains could be replaced by double-decker trains similar to the TGV Duplex when they are withdrawn. A double-deck fleet could carry 40 million passengers per year from England to Continental Europe, equivalent to adding an extra runway at a London airport.

Eurostar has higher security measures than other TGVs. Luggage is screened and passengers are, in principle, required to check in 30 minutes before departure, although this requirement is seldom enforced. Because the UK is outside the Schengen Area, passengers travelling to or from the UK are subject to immigration checks. These take place before departure, so officials from the UK Border Agency are stationed in France and Belgium for this purpose, with their French counterparts stationed in the UK.

TGV Duplex

The Duplex was built to increase TGV capacity without increasing train length or the number of trains. Each carriage has two levels, with access doors at the lower level, taking advantage of low French platforms. A staircase gives access to the upper level, where the gangway between carriages is located. This layout provides 512 seats per set. On busy routes such as Paris-Marseille they are operated in pairs, providing 1,024 seats in a train of two Duplex sets, 800 in a Duplex set plus a Reseau set. Each set has a wheelchair accessible compartment.

After a lengthy development process starting in 1988 (during which they were known as the TGV-2N), the original batch of 30 was built between 1995 and 1998. Further deliveries started in 2000 with the Duplex fleet now totaling 160 units, making it the backbone of the SNCF TGV-fleet. They weigh 380 tonnes and are 200 m (660 ft) long, made up of two power cars and eight bi-level carriages. Extensive use of aluminium means that they weigh not much more than the TGV Réseau sets they supplement. The bi-current power cars provide 8,800 kW, and they have a slightly increased speed of 320 km/h (200 mph).

Thalys PBKA

Unlike Thalys PBA sets, the PBKA (Paris-Brussels-Cologne-Amsterdam) sets were built exclusively for the Thalys service. They are technologically similar to TGV Duplex sets, but without bi-level carriages. They are quadri-current, operating under 25 kV, 50 Hz AC (LGVs), 15 kV 16⅔ Hz AC (Germany, Switzerland), 3 kV DC (Belgium) and 1.5 kV DC (Dutch and French lignes classiques). Their top speed in service is 300 km/h (186 mph) under 25 kV, with two power cars supplying 8,800 kW. When operating under 15 kV power output drops to 3,680 kW, resulting in a very poor power-to-weight-ratio on German high-speed lines. They have eight carriages and are 200 m (660 ft) long, weighing a total of 385 tonnes. They have 377 seats.

Seventeen trains were ordered, nine by SNCB, six by SNCF and two by NS. Deutsche Bahn contributed to financing two of the SNCB sets.


TGV POS (Paris-Ostfrankreich-Süddeutschland or Paris-Eastern France-Southern Germany) are used on the LGV Est.

They consist of two power cars with eight TGV Réseau type carriages, with a total power output of 9,600 kW and a top speed of 320 km/h (200 mph). Unlike TGV-A, TGV-R and TGV-D, it has asynchronous motors, and isolation of an individual motor in a powered bogie is possible in case of failure.


Overview of French TGV lines

France has around 2,037 km of Lignes à Grande Vitesse (LGV) (as of December 2011), with three lines under construction. The current lines and those under construction can be grouped into four routes radiating from Paris:

  • South-West: LGV Atlantique to Tours and Le Mans.
  • North: LGV Nord and High Speed 1 to London, with a branch towards Brussels.
  • East: LGV Est to Strasbourg.
  • South-East: LGV Sud-Est, LGV Rhône-Alpes and LGV Méditerranée to Marseille, plus LGV Rhin-Rhône and LGV Perpignan-Figueres.

The LGV Interconnexion Est connects the LGV Sud-Est to the LGV Nord around Paris, and the LGV Rhin-Rhône (under construction) will connect Strasbourg and Lyon.

Existing lines

  1. LGV Sud-Est (Paris Gare de Lyon to Lyon-Perrache), the first LGV (opened 1981)
  2. LGV Atlantique (Paris Gare Montparnasse to Tours and Le Mans) (opened 1990)
  3. LGV Rhône-Alpes (Lyon to Valence) (opened 1992)
  4. LGV Nord, HSL 1 (Paris Gare du Nord to Lille and Brussels and on towards London, Amsterdam ( HSL-Zuid) and Cologne) (opened 1993)
  5. LGV Interconnexion Est (LGV Sud-Est to LGV Nord Europe, east of Paris) (opened 1994)
  6. LGV Méditerranée (An extension of LGV Rhône-Alpes: Valence to Marseille Saint Charles) with a branch to Nîmes (opened 2001)
  7. High Speed 1 (Channel Tunnel to London St Pancras International) (Phase 1 opened 2003, phase 2 opened 14 November 2007)
  8. LGV Est (Paris Gare de l'Est- Strasbourg) (opened 10 June 2007)
  9. LGV Perpignan-Figueres (Spain to France) (construction finished February 17, 2009, TGV service from 19 December 2010)
  10. LGV Rhin-Rhône ( Lyon– Dijon– Mulhouse), opened 11 December 2011.

Lines under construction

  1. LGV Est second phase, due to open March 2016.
  2. LGV Sud Europe Atlantique ( Tours– Bordeaux), extending the southern branch of the LGV Atlantique (also called LGV Sud-Ouest). due to open in 2017.
  3. LGV Bretagne-Pays de la Loire ( Le Mans– Rennes), extending the western branch of the LGV Atlantique.

Planned lines

  1. Lyon–Turin ( Lyon– Chambéry–Turin), connecting to the Italian TAV network.
  2. LGV Bordeaux–Toulouse- Narbonne
  3. LGV Poitiers-Limoges
  4. LGV Picardie (Paris Amiens– Calais), cutting off the corner of the LGV Nord-Europe via Lille.
  5. LGV Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (Marseille Nice), will reduce Paris – Nice travel times from 5h25 to 3h50 by 2025.
  6. LGV Paris-Cherbourg will run from Paris to Rouen, Le Havre, Caen and Cherbourg. The line would have a stop in La Défense where it would meet with a proposed link to LGV Nord and a proposed Eurostar service to terminate in La Défense.
  7. Nîmes-Montpellier
  8. Montpellier-Perpignan( fr)
  9. Second Paris - Lyon LGV On July 30, 2010, the French government announced that it expects to start work on a second LGV between Paris and Lyon between 2020 and 2030. The train will run via Orléans and Clermont-Ferrand, at a length of 410 km, and is expected to cost €12bn. The route will be known as LGV POCL (Paris, Orléans, Clermont-Ferrand and Lyon). Four potential routes are being studied as of 2011, with consultations continuing into 2012. Work is expected to start after 2025.
  10. Bordeaux-Spanish border( fr)

Amsterdam and Cologne are served by Thalys TGVs running on ordinary and high-speed line tracks. London is served by Eurostar trains running on High Speed 1 – Eurostar now runs on fully segregated line once in the United Kingdom.

TGV technology outside France

TGV technology has been adopted in a number of other countries separately from the French network:

  • AVE (Alta Velocidad Española), in Spain.
  • Thalys in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
  • Korea Train Express (KTX), in South Korea.
  • British Rail Class 373 in Great Britain.
  • Acela Express, a high-speed tilting train built by TGV participant Bombardier for the United States. The Acela uses several TGV technologies including the motors, electrical/drivetrain system (rectifiers, inverters, regenerative braking technology), truck structure and disc brakes, and crash energy management technology to control structural deformations in accidents. However, the Acela's tilting, non-articulated carriages are derived from the Bombardier's Canadian LRC trains and are custom built for unique U.S. Federal Railroad Administration crash standards.
  • The Moroccan government agreed to a €2 billion contract for the French construction firm Alstom to build a TGV-line between Tangier and Casablanca. The train is to be operational in 2015.
  • The Buenos Aires–Rosario–Córdoba high-speed railway, in Argentina, will have French TGV Duplex trains, running at 320 km/h (200 mph).
  • Italian open-access high-speed operator Nuovo Trasporto Viaggiatori has signed up with Alstom to purchase 25 AGV 11-car sets (TGV 4th generation, running at 350 km/h (220 mph)) for delivery starting in 2009.

Future TGVs

SNCF and Alstom are investigating new technology that could be used for high-speed transport. The development of TGV trains is being pursued in the form of the Automotrice à grande vitesse', AGV (high speed multiple unit). The AGV design has motors under each carriage. Investigations are being carried out with the aim of producing trains at the same cost as existing TGVs with the same safety standards. AGVs of the same length as TGVs could have up to 450 seats. The target speed is 360 kilometres per hour (220 mph). The prototype AGV was unveiled by Alstom on February 5, 2008.

In the short term, plans are being considered to increase the capacity of TGVs by 10% by replacing the central two power cars of a double TGV with passenger carriages. These carriages would have motorized bogies underneath them, as would the first and last carriage of the train, to make up for the lost power.

Italian operator NTV is the first customer for the AGV, and intends to become the first open access high speed rail operator in Europe, when it starts operation of its AGVs in Italy in 2011.


In almost three decades of high-speed operation, the TGV has not recorded a single fatality due to accident while running at high speed. There have been several accidents, including three derailments at or above 270 km/h (170 mph), but in none of these did any carriages overturn. This is credited in part to the stiffness that the articulated design lends to the train. There have been fatal accidents involving TGVs on lignes classiques, where the trains are exposed to the same dangers as normal trains, such as level crossings.


  • 14 December 1992: TGV 920 from Annecy to Paris, operated by set 56, derailed at 270 km/h (170 mph) at Mâcon-Loché TGV station (Saône-et-Loire). A previous emergency stop had caused a wheel flat; the bogie concerned derailed while crossing the points at the entrance to the station. No one on the train was injured, but 25 passengers waiting on the platform for another TGV were slightly injured by ballast that was thrown up from the trackbed.
  • 21 December 1993: TGV 7150 from Valenciennes to Paris, operated by set 511, derailed at 300 km/h (190 mph) at the site of Haute Picardie TGV station, before it was built. Rain had caused a hole to open up under the track; the hole dated from the First World War but had not been detected during construction. The front power car and four carriages derailed but remained aligned with the track. Of the 200 passengers, one was slightly injured.
  • 5 June 2000: Eurostar 9073 from Paris to London, operated by sets 3101/2 owned by NMBS/SNCB, derailed at 250 km/h (160 mph) in the Nord-Pas de Calais region near Croisilles. The transmission assembly on the rear bogie of the front power car failed, with parts falling onto the track. Four bogies out of 24 derailed. Out of 501 passengers, seven were bruised and others treated for shock.

On lignes classiques

  • 31 December 1983: A bomb allegedly planted by the terrorist organisation of Carlos the Jackal exploded on board a TGV from Marseille to Paris; two people were killed.
  • 28 September 1988: TGV 736, operated by set 70 "Melun", collided with a lorry carrying an electric transformer weighing 100 tonnes that had become stuck on a level crossing in Voiron, Isère. The vehicle had not been permitted to cross by the French Direction départementale de l'équipement. The weight of the lorry caused a very violent collision; the train driver and a passenger died, and 25 passengers were slightly injured.
  • 4 January 1991: after a brake failure, TGV 360 ran away from Châtillon depot. The train was directed onto an unoccupied track and collided with the car loading ramp at Paris-Vaugirard station at 60 km/h (37 mph). No one was injured. The leading power car and the first two carriages were severely damaged, and were rebuilt.
  • 25 September 1997: TGV 7119 from Paris to Dunkerque, operated by set 502, collided at 130 km/h (81 mph) with a 70 tonne asphalt paving machine on a level crossing at Bierne, near Dunkerque. The power car spun round and fell down an embankment. The front two carriages left the track and came to a stop in woods beside the track. Seven people were injured.
  • 31 October 2001: TGV 8515 from Paris to Irun derailed at 130 km/h (81 mph) near Dax in southwest France. All ten carriages derailed and the rear power unit fell over. The cause was a broken rail.
  • 30 January 2003: a TGV from Dunkerque to Paris collided at 106 km/h (66 mph) with a heavy goods vehicle stuck on the level crossing at Esquelbecq in northern France. The front power car was severely damaged, but only one bogie derailed. Only the driver was slightly injured.
  • 19 December 2007: a TGV train from Paris to Geneva collided at about 100 km/h (62 mph) with a truck on a level crossing near Tossiat in eastern France, near the Swiss border. The driver of the truck died; on the train, one was seriously injured and 24 were slightly injured.

Following the number of accidents at level crossings, an effort has been made to remove all level crossings on lignes classiques used by TGVs. The ligne classique from Tours to Bordeaux at the end of the LGV Atlantique has no level crossings as a result.

Protests against the TGV

The first environmental protests against the building of a high-speed line in France occurred in May 1990 during the planning stages of the LGV Méditerranée. Protesters blocked a railway viaduct to protest against the planned route, arguing that it was unnecessary, and that trains could use existing lines to reach Marseilles from Lyon.

Lyon Turin Ferroviaire ( Lyon- Chambéry-Turin), which would connect the TGV to the Italian TAV network, has been the subject of demonstrations in Italy. While most Italian political parties agree on the construction of this line, inhabitants of the towns where construction would take place are vehemently opposing it. The concerns of the protesters centre around storing dangerous materials mined from mountain, like asbestos and uranium, in the open air. This serious health danger could be avoided by using more appropriate but expensive techniques for handling radioactive materials. A six-month delay in the start of construction has been decided in order to study solutions. In addition to the concerns of the residents, RFB – a ten-year-old national movement – opposes the development of Italy's TAV high-speed rail network as a whole.

General complaints about the noise of TGVs passing near towns and villages have led the SNCF to build acoustic fencing along large sections of LGVs to reduce the disturbance to residents, but protests still take place where SNCF has not addressed the issue.

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