- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2007

ABOARD TRAIN V150, France — A French train with a 25,000-horsepower engine and special wheels broke the world speed record yesterday for conventional rail trains, reaching 357.2 mph as it zipped through the countryside to the applause of spectators.

Roaring like a jet plane — with sparks flying overhead and kicking up a long trail of dust — the black and chrome V150 with three double-decker cars surpassed the record of 320.2 mph set in 1990 by another French train.

It fell short, however, of beating the ultimate record set by Japan’s magnetically levitated (maglev) train, which hit 361 mph in 2003.

The French TGV, or “train a grande vitesse,” as the country’s bullet train is called, had two engines on either side of the three double-decker cars for the record run, about 125 miles east of the capital on a new track linking Paris with Strasbourg.

Aboard the V150, the sensation was comparable to that of an airplane at takeoff.

The demonstration was meant to showcase technology that France is trying to sell to the multibillion-dollar overseas markets such as China. Hours before the run, Transport Minister Dominique Perben received a California delegation, including state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. The state is studying prospects for a high-speed line from Sacramento to San Diego, via San Francisco and Los Angeles.

People lined bridges and clapped and cheered when as the V150 roared by.

“We saw the countryside go by a little faster than we did during the tests,” said engineer Eric Pieczac.

“Everything went very well,” he added.

Technicians on the train had “French excellence” emblazoned on the backs of their T-shirts. President Jacques Chirac called the record “a magnificent demonstration of France’s formidable capacities in research and innovation.”

Philippe Mellier, president of train builder Alstom Transports, said before the test that the train would try to break the record held by the Japanese maglev train.

French TGVs normally travel at a cruising speed of about 186.4 mph.

It was the first time that double-decker cars were used at such a high speed, said officials of Alstom, which makes TGVs and crawled back a year ago from the edge of bankruptcy.

The double-decker cars were transformed into a laboratory for the event so that technicians from the state-run rail company SNCF and Alstom could gather data during the run.

Pierre-Louis Rochet, former head of SNCF’s international division, predicted that commercial trains would never run at more than 220 mph “because after that, the costs will increase too much.”

The record gilds France’s image in the expanding market for high-speed technology as countries turn to bullet trains. France competes with neighboring Germany and with Japan for contracts. Apart from Alstom and Japan’s Shinkansen, high-speed trains are made by Germany’s Siemens and Canada’s Bombardier.

China, the biggest potential market, was to start building a high-speed line this year between Beijing and Shanghai to cut travel time from nine hours to five.

China’s state press reported last year that the government plans to build more than 7,500 miles of high-speed railways in coming years at a cost of $250 billion to $310 billion.

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