The Train à Grande Vitesse began operation on 27 September 1981 with the TGV Sud-Est line, Paris-Lyon. The TGV was designed to be compatible with the existing rail system. It uses purpose-built rails for high-speed operation, but also runs on the normal rails, at lower speeds. It thus provides continued service beyond the area of high-speed tracks, while the high-speed network is slowly expanded.
TGV Atlantique began service in 1989, from Paris to Le Mans and Tours.
TGV Nord-Europe started in 1993, with a line from Paris north to Lille. The Lille TGV hub is a link to destinations in Belgium, The Netherlands and northern Germany.
The Eurostar train between London and Paris, Lille, Brussels began service in 1994.
The TGV-Mediterranée line was inaugurated by President Jacques Chirac on 7 June, and the line was officially opened on 10 June, 2001. [Our photo here is the "Jour-17" (day-17) sign at the Avignon station in May 2001.] This new line opened just under 20 years after the very first line opened, and is seems fitting that this extends that first section. From 10 June 2001, the Paris - Marseilles train trip takes 3 hours, in place of the previous 4 hours 20 minutes. Coming from from London, you can get to the South of France on the Eurostarin 6 hours 15 minutes (with a change at Lille or Paris). From the north to the south of France, Lille to Marseille is only 4h30, and an average speed of 317 km/h.
Three ultra-modern TGV stations were built, at Valence, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence. At each end also, Paris-Gare de Lyon and Marseilles stations were extensively refurbished.
These rail speed records are for conventional trains (with metal wheel on metal rails), using engines and passenger cars. We've included some locomotive-only records in our list for comparison.
The TGV tests have been done using normal commercial railway equipment, but with fewer passenger cars and some modifications. Mods have included increasing tension of the overhead cantenary lines, increasing settings for brakes and power usage, reducing the number of pantographs. The records have used the standard lines, when they're new, and with careful inspection and control. Following the 1981 and 1990 runs, the tracks remained in use for normal TGV rail traffic. For the April 2007 run, modifications from the "standard" TGV included increased motor power and larger-diameter wheels; the catenary system and the rail ballast were reinforced.
3 April 2007: 574.8 km/h (359.4 mph) - speed record, on the new TGV Est-Européenne line, about 200 km east of Paris, between km points 264 and 191. The highest speed was attained at km 191, in the commune of Le Chemin, in the departement of the Marne. This line opened for commercial service a month later, on 10 June 2007.
13 Feb 2007: 554.3 km/h (344.5 mph), unofficial record, on the new Est-Européenne line near the village of Passavant-en-Argonne.
2 Sept 2006: A German locomotive broke France's 1955 locomotive-only record, reaching a peak speed of 357 km/h.
2 Dec 2003: A Japanese 3-car Maglev train attained a speed of 581 km/h, setting a world speed record for Maglevs.
26 May 2001: from the Channel Tunnel entrance at Calais-Fréthun to Marseille (1069 km) was done in 3 hrs 29 minutes, setting a new speed record (of 317.5 km/h) for a non-stop run of over 1000 km by a commercial train.
18 May 1990: 515.3 km/h (320.3 mph), speed record, set by the TGV Atlantique.
1 May 1988: 406 km/h (252 mph), speed record, by the German ICE (Inter City Experimental).
26 Feb 1981: 380 km/h (236 mph), speed record, by the TGV Sud-Est.
25 Oct 1971: TGV prototype "TGV 001" was completed, by Alsthom.
28 March 1955: 330.9 km/h (205.6 mph), Locomotive-only speed record, by an SNCF locomotive on the Bordeaux - Dax main line in southwest France, between Lamothe and Morcenx. Following this successful speed record, the train's pantograph melted and the track was severly deformed for several hundred metres.
1903: 120 km/h (75 mph) German locomotive-only.