French train breaks speed record

Thomas Lifson
For all the troubles of Airbus, the French do trains very well indeed. A specially-outfitted TGV train set has broken the world speed record for railroads, reaching 357.2 miles per hour on a stretch of track in eastern France.

Thirty years ago, the French decided to outdo Japan's pioneering Shinkansen high speed trains with their TGV system, and the two nations have ever since vied with each other to supply high speed train systems to the world. In countries as diverse as Taiwan, South Korea, China, and Spain, systems have been planned or constructed, while both France and Japan have expanded their domestic high speed networks.

Such trains only make sense when they connect large cities with substantial traffic that are a few hundred miles or less apart. The Northeast Corridor in the United States is the best prospect, but Amtrak's upgrade to comparatively slow Acela service was over budget, behind schedule, and technically troubled.

Europe and Asia, with their high population density and transit-dependant cities are far better prospects for high speed rail than the often-suggested Los Angeles-San Francisco corridor. Aside from the fact that the corridor between the two metropolises is sparsely populated, both end points are sprawling car-dependant areas. A single terminus for high speed rail at either end would be inadequate for most travelers. There is frequent shuttle airline service between no fewer than 5 airports in the Los Angeles area and three in the Bay Area because travelers are so spread out. To a lesser degree, this would be true elsewhere in America for routes connecting other big cities.

If enthusiasts do want to see high speed rail in America, they might start with a close examination of the reasons construction costs are so high here, including the Davis-Bacon so-called "prevailing wage" federal regulation driving up labor costs, and domestic content rules. The French seem to be able to construct large scale civil engineering projects more economically than we can, and a careful study of why would be enlightening.
For all the troubles of Airbus, the French do trains very well indeed. A specially-outfitted TGV train set has broken the world speed record for railroads, reaching 357.2 miles per hour on a stretch of track in eastern France.

Thirty years ago, the French decided to outdo Japan's pioneering Shinkansen high speed trains with their TGV system, and the two nations have ever since vied with each other to supply high speed train systems to the world. In countries as diverse as Taiwan, South Korea, China, and Spain, systems have been planned or constructed, while both France and Japan have expanded their domestic high speed networks.

Such trains only make sense when they connect large cities with substantial traffic that are a few hundred miles or less apart. The Northeast Corridor in the United States is the best prospect, but Amtrak's upgrade to comparatively slow Acela service was over budget, behind schedule, and technically troubled.

Europe and Asia, with their high population density and transit-dependant cities are far better prospects for high speed rail than the often-suggested Los Angeles-San Francisco corridor. Aside from the fact that the corridor between the two metropolises is sparsely populated, both end points are sprawling car-dependant areas. A single terminus for high speed rail at either end would be inadequate for most travelers. There is frequent shuttle airline service between no fewer than 5 airports in the Los Angeles area and three in the Bay Area because travelers are so spread out. To a lesser degree, this would be true elsewhere in America for routes connecting other big cities.

If enthusiasts do want to see high speed rail in America, they might start with a close examination of the reasons construction costs are so high here, including the Davis-Bacon so-called "prevailing wage" federal regulation driving up labor costs, and domestic content rules. The French seem to be able to construct large scale civil engineering projects more economically than we can, and a careful study of why would be enlightening.