A French train hit new speed records Tuesday near the eastern city of Strasbourg, zipping along the tracks at 574.8 kilometers (357.2 miles) per hour. The company hopes for more international customers.
Built for speed
The train is an experimental version of the Traine a Grande Vitesse (TGV), equipped with two supercharged locomotives and extra-large wheels. It easily beat the previous 515.3 kph record set by a TGV in 1990.
A Japanese magnetic levitation, or Maglev, train still holds the world train speed record of 581 kph reached in 2003. Maglev trains don't run on rails but glide on a magnetic field.
TGV manufacturer Alstom arranged the exploit in order to use extreme conditions to test its latest engineering designs, as well as to display the TGV's technological prowess to clients in a growing world market.
Outside France, only South Korea has bought TGV trains. The French manufacturer faces tough competition from German and Japanese rivals. Alstom hopes to sell trains to Argentina, China, Italy and the US state of California.
Environmentally friendly transport
Train travel is an environmentally-friendly alternative to flying
California is looking into a possible link between San Francisco and Los Angeles, said Fabian Nunez, speaker of the California state assembly. Nunez was part of a delegation in France this week to study the trains.
"Not only are you French people lucky to have the high speed train system, but it also impacts the environment in a positive way," Nunez said.
France's electrically-powered fast trains have been operating since 1981. On an average day, the trains reach speeds of 320 kph. The newest fast line, scheduled to open in July, cuts travel time from Paris to the eastern city of Strasbourg from four hours to two hours and 20 minutes.
It was on a section of the Paris-Strasbourg line -- prepared with extra ballast and boosted overhead electric cables -- that Tuesday's speed record was broken. The special train -- dubbed V150 -- at one point traveled more than 150 metres per second.
The train reached similarly fast speeds in several trial runs over recent weeks, but this was the first test to be officially monitored. The event was broadcast live in France and Germany.
German ICE trains compete with the French-made TGV
"What is important for us today is to prove that the TGV technology which was invented in France 30 years ago is a technology for the future," said Guillaume Pepy, director-general of the state rail company SNCF, which is TGV's main customer.
Japan's Shinkansen "bullet train" and the Inter-City Express (ICE) of the German company Siemens are the other major players in a global fast train market that has been boosted recently by environmental concerns about the impact of air transport. Bombardier of Canada and Talgo of Spain are manufacturer high-speed trains.
The Shinkansen and the ICE currently average about 300 kph (186 mph) but a new version of the Japanese train, the Fastech 360Z, is expected to operate at 360kph (223.5 mph) when it enters service. Alstom is preparing a new generation of TGVs -- also capable of 360 kph -- to come on line from 2012.