France's Alstom unveils new-generation, super-fast train
French engineering giant Alstom, creator of the high-speed TGV train, unveiled a new-generation, super-fast prototype - tailored specially for export.
LA ROCHELLE, France, Feb 7, 2008 - French engineering giant Alstom,
creator of the high-speed TGV train, unveiled Tuesday a new-generation,
super-fast prototype: quicker, cleaner, bigger -- and tailored specially for
President Nicolas Sarkozy helped cut the ribbon on the AGV, which stands
for Automotice Grande Vitesse, or High-Speed Railcar -- a bullet-train
designed with a cruise speed of up to 360 kilometres per hour (210 mph).
The TGV's top cruise speed is currently 320 kph (190 mph).
"We wanted this train because we had understood that the ultra high-speed
market was going to evolve," Alstom chairman Patrick Kron told some 500 guests
gathered at a rail test centre in the Atlantic city of La Rochelle.
"To answer that challenge, we had to expand and modernise our offer," he
said before unveiling the slick black-and-grey prototype, which shunted
forwards in a pool of blue light.
The AGV's key innovation is a system of motorised carriages spread along
the length of the train, instead of the front and rear only, which
constructors say slashes both energy and maintenance costs.
Sarkozy, who as finance minister intervened in 2004 to save the engineering
giant Alstom from being broken up, was guest of honour, along with top
executives from the French, German, Russian and Italian rail operators.
The president hailed the AGV as proof of the group's "renewal", saying its
success showed he had been right to prop up the French champion.
"We need to entrench a simple message in people's minds: industry is not
over, industry is essential for the economy of a rich nation as much as an
emerging nation," Sarkozy said.
Alstom designed the AGV alone, unlike the TGV which was a joint project
with the state rail firm SNCF 27 years ago, aiming for a more spacious
interior and greater energy-efficiency.
The French manufacturer has already secured a 1.5-billion-euro (2.2 billion
dollar) export contract with Italy's new rail operator Nuovo Transporto
Viaggiatori (NTV), which plans to put 25 trains in circulation from 2011.
Alstom's AGV beat both the Inter-City Express (ICE) of the German company
Siemens and the Canadian Bombardier's superfast Zefiro train for the contract.
German newspapers report that Alstom is well-placed to beat Siemens on home
ground for an upcoming contract with the state rail operator Deutsche Bahn.
Pride of French engineering, the current-generation TGV is one of the
world's fastest rail services, with high-speed lines criss-crossing France and
links to London and Brussels.
A supercharged French TGV smashed the world speed record for a train on
rails last year, hurtling into the history books at 574.8 kilometres (357.2
miles) per hour -- close to half the speed of sound.
Japan's Shinkansen "bullet train" and Siemen's ICE train are the other
major players in a global fast train market that has been boosted by
environmental concerns about the impact of air transport.
The Shinkansen and the ICE currently average about 300kph (185 mph) but a
new version of the Japanese train, the Fastech 360Z, is expected to operate at
360kph (225 mph) when it enters service.