Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Fast track

Millions of TV viewers were no doubt glued to their screens today, watching the latest French wonder train setting a new world speed record of over 574 kilometers an hour. At the start of the thirty-minute broadcast, I said to myself that the media people had no doubt assembled dozens of helicopters to follow this much-publicized event. I soon realized the stupidity of my thinking about helicopters, which might be great for cycling races, but totally inadequate for a TGV [train à grande vitesse: high-speed train]. Media people followed the record-breaking train in a low-flying jet aircraft. The event was, of course, a prestige affair. Among the guests inside the train, there was a Californian member of congress, representing potential purchasers of Alstom equipment. Although the manufacturer and French railway engineers learn a lot from high-profile experimental stunts such as this, it goes without saying that no ordinary trains are likely to be operating at anywhere near such a speed in the foreseeable future, because all sorts of costly modifications and precautions were required in order to stage this record-breaking event. Even ordinary road bridges take an unacceptable hammering when a train goes underneath at such a speed. Everyday TGVs will soon be crawling along on this new line from Paris to Strasbourg at no more than 320 kilometers an hour.

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