Since its inception in 1981, the TGV train has been whisking passengers around France and beyond at record breaking speeds. Many who ride the service often wonder how fast the train is actually going, and how much faster it is than its conventional rail counterparts.
How fast does the TGV train go? The TGV train goes 186 mph (300 kp/h). This maximum speed of 186 mph (300 kp/h), was achieved in the early 2000s, after the sets were upgraded upon their mid-life refurbishment.
It is no surprise that the TGV fleet of trains looks fast standing still. Their aerodynamic and blissfully engineered design encompass speed and efficiency. Below, we’ll take a look at the TGV’s evolution of speed, and how the top speed of 186 mph came to fruition.
LGV Sud-Est-formerly 162 mph (260 kp/h), 186 mph (300 kp/h)
With the commencement of the very first LGV, the Sud-Est in 1981, the TGV Sud-Est sets could reach speeds of up to 162 mph (260 kp/h). When initially opening for revenue service, the Sud-Est LGV, connecting Paris and Lyon, completed the 257 mile trip in just over two hours.
The Sud-Est line was constructed to alleviate congestion on both the rails and the roads between Paris and Lyon, and provide world class service to customers, and connect intermediate cities along the way. The Sud-Est line is best known for the striking orange livery on the TGV Sud-Est sets, a trademark of TGV operations.
The Sud-Est line soon was able to serve northern France, with the opening of the LGV Nord, and the LGV Interconexion Est in 1993. With the opening of the LGV Mediterranee in 2001, various pieces of TGV equipment, such as the Sud-Est sets, and Atlantique sets, were upgraded from their original 162 mph (260 kp/h) speed to 186 mph (300 kp/h).
LGV Atlantique/LGV Rhone Alps-formerly 162 mph (270 kp/h), 186 mph (300 kp/h)
The LGV Atlantique, which began operations in 1989, introduced a new set of train sets, the TGV Atlantique. These train sets were similar to the Sud-Est sets, however, they lack the break in the cab roof above the windows, and operate in ten car sets as opposed to eight.
The Atlantique, operating between Paris-Tours-Le Mans, began operations at 168 mph, however, were upgraded to 186 mph in 2001, similar to the Sud-Est sets. Interestingly, in order to operate to both Lemans and Tours, the line split at Courtalain. The Atlantique was created to fill the void of a lack of suitable transportation between Paris, and the capital of the Sarthe department, Le Mans, and the largest city in the Centre-Val de Loire region, Tours.
LGV Nord-186 mph (300 kp/h)
Beginning operations simultaneously with the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1993, the LGV Nord provided Paris and other locations throughout France with rail access to London, Belgium, and Amsterdam. Aside from TGV operations, various services such as Eurostar, Thalys, and AVE, operate throughout the line.
The LGV Nord revolutionized high speed rail throughout the continent, as various international journeys are carried out through the Nord, such as services to the UK, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Additionally, it allowed southern France to be connected to the north by high-speed rail, via its connection with the Sud-Est.
LGV Est – 200 mph (320 kp/h) 220 mph (350 kp/h)
The LGV Est was opened in 2007, operating between Paris and Strasbourg, which operates at a top speed of 200 mph (320 kp/h). This LGV was constructed in multiple phases, the first phase being complete in 2007, and the second phase in 2016.
With the implementation of the LGV Est, the travel time between Paris and Strasbourg was reduced to half. The line also provides international journeys, with services reaching Germany, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. The line is also slated to be part of the Main Line for Europe, a project to connect France with countries such as Hungary.
LGV Bretagne-Pays de la Loire- 186 mph (300 kp/h)
The Bretagne is the most recent LGV constructed, opening in 2017, and is an extension of the LGV Atlantique. The Bretagne operates at speeds of up to 186 mph (300 kp/h), similar to other lines throughout the system.
This extension connects Le Mans with Rennes, the capitol of France’s Brittany region. The LGV has been under construction since 2012, and took five years to complete, finishing the project in 2017. Upon its completion, Paris was connected to the far west of France by high-speed rail, furthering the reach and scope of the network to various communities.
LGV Sud Europe Atlantique- 199 mph (320 kp/h)
The LGV Sud Europe Atlantique (also known as LGV Sud-Owest and LGV L’Oceane) brings high-speed rail service to southwestern France, and is a southwestern extension of the LGV Atlantique. The line was opened in 2017, and connects Tours on the LGV Atlantique, with Bordeaux. Top speeds on this line are 199 mph (320 kp/h).
Record Breaking Speeds
There’s no doubt the TGV is one of the most recognizable trains in the world. Thus, it has been the center of many different speed test utilizing various equipment. The TGV currently holds the world record for a train traveling on conventional rail, and continues to construct one of the most advanced high speed rail networks in the world. Even the first gas turbine set, TGV 001, set a record for a non-electric high speed train in 1972, traveling at a speed of 190 mph (300 kp/h).
Following TGV 001’s record setting run, several production TGV trains set world records throughout the following decades, including the Sud-Est set in 1981, Atlantique in 1989, and Duplex set in 2007. In order to reach these speeds, various modifications took place, such as modified running gear, braking equipment, and train length.
Initially, the TGV was slated to be a gas turbine powered network, thus, France’s national railway carrier SNCF, ordered a gas turbine train set from Alstom, called “TGV 001”. The TGV 001 set the world record for a non-electrified train set, reaching a speed of 190 mph in 1972, which has yet to be broken. However, due to the oil crisis in 1973, it was deemed unfeasible to utilize fossil fuels, thus, traction for the project switched to electric power.
The run of TGV 001 set a substantial benchmark for future TGV trains, as the final production electric versions shared similarities with TGV 001, such as articulated passenger cars, livery, and a sleek, aerodynamic design.
Sud-Est Set -1981
The Sud-Est TGV train sets were the very first production sets to be introduced in 1981. These sets traveled on the original Sud-Est LGV between Paris and Lyon. These train sets held a speed record for nearly a decade, as a test run reached the speed of 236 mph (380 kp/h) in 1981, soon after the service was implemented. At the time, this test run proved to be the fastest run of a train on conventional rail.
Atlantique Set – 1990
In 1990, the recently delivered TGV Atlantique, for use on the LGV Atlantique shattered the previous speed record set nine years earlier by the Sud-Est set. The Atlantique set reached a record breaking speed of 320 mph (515 kp/h), on the newly opened LGV.
In order to achieve these speeds, various modifications were made to the train set utilized for the test run. Modifications such as improved aerodynamics, stronger brakes and larger wheels were implemented. Additionally, the ten car set was reduced to just three cars for improved power to weight ratio.
TGV Duplex Set-2007
In 2007, on the recently opened LGV Est, which connected Paris with Strasbourg, the recently delivered TGV Duplex sets built by Alstom set a speed record of 357.2 mph (574.8 kp/h) on April 3, 2007. Similar to the Atlantique set in 1990, the Duplex set was modified as well. The Duplex set received larger wheels, improved braking capabilities, and modified aerodynamics. Similar to the Atlantique set, the Duplex set was also reduced to three cars to improve the train’s power to weight ratio.
Infrastructural modifications were carried out as well, as the voltage of the overhead line on the LGV Est was increased from 25 kv to 31 kv, and additional ballast was added, especially around the curves.
This set currently holds the world record as the fastest run of a train utilizing conventional rail. This record breaking run is only broken by the SCMaglev L0 Series Maglev, however, the Maglev does not utilize conventional rail.
What does TGV stand for? TGV stands for Train a Grande Vitesse. In English, this translates to “high speed train”. The TGV name has been recognizable for decades, and continues to be an icon of both speed and innovation.