Friday, February 8, 2008

Avant-garde French train technology

Just when the French acronym TGV [train à grande vitesse] has even found its way into English-language dictionaries [such as on my Macintosh] to designate French high-speed electric passenger trains, we'll be obliged soon to become familiar with a substitute: AGV [automotrice à grande vitesse]. I'm not sure how we should translate this expression. Maybe simply as high-speed train motor (a little awkward)... unless somebody attempts to introduce a neologism such as automotive, as a rail equivalent of automobile.

In the context of an AGV system, the power does not remain solely in the locomotive. Instead, it is distributed out to each carriage in the train. This means that the velocity of a train can be stabilized, no matter how long it is. And there are gains both in speed and in energy consumption. The Alstom manufacturer states that the new trains will be lighter than TGVs, through the use of new composite material.

Alstom has made it clear that it aims to export this revolutionary train. The Italian NTV operator has already ordered a batch of 25, and Argentina plans to use this train on its line between Buenos-Aires and Cordoba, for an investment of 1.5 billion dollars. The success of the TGV has been largely a matter of prestige. Unfortunately, as we all know, mere prestige won't buy shoes for the kids, or (as they say in French) put butter in your spinach. This time round, with the AGV, France would like to earn a lot of that old-fashioned stuff called money.


  1. "...unless somebody attempts to introduce a neologism such as automotive, as a rail equivalent of automobile."

    Well William, of course they have. There was a very long-established company in England called "Automotive Products". Bits for cars though, not trains.

  2. Yes, I made the mistake of saying, as it were, both too much and too little. The expression "train à grande vitesse" and the acronym TGV have several attractive qualities. Everybody knows what a train is, and most people can guess the meaning of "grande vitesse". Even the letters TGV have a nice ring, a little like some kind of great TV. But, in throwing out a half-baked acronym such as AGV, Alstom's marketing people don't seem to have done their homework. AGV is a marketing catastrophe, because few people know what an "automotrice" is, and this word can't be translated easily into English. Nobody's going to talk in English of an "automotor". I imagined for a moment that the automobile industry might be prepared to let railroad folk borrow their adjective "automotive" and use it as a noun meaning roughly "Alstom's new locomotive". But that's hardly a serious suggestion. Maybe they could claim that AGV stands for "advanced TGV". I predict that the AGV acronym won't catch on at all. People will simply talk of "the new TGV" or "Alstom's latest TGV".

  3. Given the modern capacity of overpaid "image consultants" to come up with stupid names - example the old insurance company Eagle Star now called "Aviva" - I do not suppose that it will be long before they foist "Autotrain" on us!