US official inspects French TGV, finds it on strike
Railway staff joined a nationwide day of protest on the same day that US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood inspected the rail network.Paris – US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood inspected France's ultramodern high speed rail network on Tuesday, and found it was undergoing one of its periodic bouts of industrial unrest.
President Barack Obama's administration has set aside EUR 9.4 billion (USD 13 billion) in order to start work on the United States' first fast railways, decades after Europe and Japan began to develop theirs.
LaHood, who is also due to visit Spain and Germany, began his fact-finding tour in Paris, hub of the TGV network, which has carried passengers around France at speeds of up to 320 kilometres (200 miles) per hour since 1981.
One in four of the high-tech trains, however, was out of service on Tuesday as railway staff joined a nationwide day of protest against President Nicolas Sarkozy's strategy for dealing with the economic crisis.
The secretary made no mention of the dispute and was full of praise for the French train, which has been upgraded over the years and is now the fastest in the world with a top speed of 574.8 kilometres per hour.
"We wanted to come first to the place that led the way to high speed rail," LaHood told reporters after his visit to Paris Gare de l'Est, from where he was to take a non-striking train to Strasbourg. "This is a magnificent system.
"In America we're just beginning what you've done here in Europe for such a long period of time in such a succesful way. This is very impressive."
Technology and equipment from the TGV, which is built by French engineering giant Alstom, is used in Spain, South Korea, Morocco, Argentina and Italy, and France hopes that the United States might one day place a lucrative order.
The head of France's national rail firm SNCF, Guillaume Pepy, said: "We are completely flexible. We'd agree to transfer technology, take part in the engineering, work as an operator .. it's up to them."
LaHood did not rule out a future deal, but added that he would first have to look at rival locomotives in service elsewhere.
"This is our first trip around the world," he said. "We know that Europe is the leader in high speed rail but we also know there are other places in the world, like in Asia."
Japan's Shinkansen is the TGV's main rival for speed records.
French rail services were expected to return to normal on Wednesday after the one-day strike. The next national day of protest is timetabled for 13 June.
AFP / Expatica