Showing posts with label trains. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trains. Show all posts

Monday, January 27, 2014

Longest European train ever

I suggest that you start the following video immediately. 

Like many people, I love to watch trains go past. I hope you share with me this passion. The merit of the above video is that the pleasure of watching this train go by is made to last for over a quarter of an hour. Your first view of the approaching train is a tiny white dot at the far end of the empty line on the left-hand side of the video. It only appears after you're about a minute and 20 seconds into the video. So stay calm, and wait. You'll recognize it as soon as it appears. Then the dot turns into a whitish blob, and the blob starts to get bigger and bigger. It's terribly exciting, but you've got to be patient.

When the train was in full view, I even had time to go downstairs and make myself a coffee… and, when I got back to my computer screen, the train was still going past. It’s the longest train in French railroad history, or something like that. That’s a great kind of a record, n’est-ce pas ?

I bet that strongmen are already contacting the French railway authorities, hoping to get into the famous Guinness book by showing that they can drag this train with their bare hands and arms over a distance of so many metres. That would be another great kind of a record.

Aussies are always going on about the length of their road trains on Outback roads.

But I reckon they wouldn’t get anywhere near the length of the French train.

Now, if ever you were bored, you don’t have to watch the video right up until the end. If you’re thinking of hitting the stop button, I can tell you what happens later on in the video. Nothing at all ! The train simply keeps on moving past.

POST SCRIPTUM: My son François Skyvington phoned to express certain doubts concerning this train video. In particular, he felt that neither the train nor the products being hauled appeared to be French. So, I’m inserting a few items of information that I discovered on the excellent websites of French TV and Challenge Nouvel Observateur.

The train seen in the video was 1.5 kilometres long and it weighed 4000 tons. As such, it was the longest train that has ever existed up until now in Europe. The experimental excursion whose departure is presented in the video took place on January 18, 2014. The departure was Lyon (Rhône) and the destination Nîmes (Gard). The train was composed by linking together two normal trains, each of a length of 750 metres and with its own pair of locomotives. (This kind of linkage is a standard operation in the case of TGV trains.) For the experimental run seen in the video, this linkage was carried out in a railroad freight zone named Sibelin, on the outskirts of Lyon.

In my title, I've replaced the adjective "French" by "European". The project, named Marathon, is not purely French, but European, guided by the European Commission and involving 16 financial partners. In the experimental train shown in the video, you may have noticed the presence of two French-made Alstom electric locomotives and two German-made Vossloh diesel locomotives. For this first experiment, as my observant son noticed, the rolling stock (wagons and goods) was indeed German, made available by the Kombiverkehr company.

In normal operational circumstances, train-watchers won’t have the luxury of spending a quarter of an hour admiring such a long train, because their cruising speed will be about 100 km/hour. At level crossings, drivers will therefore be held up for an extra 30 seconds. So, make the most of your opportunity to admire the above video. Viewing conditions won’t always be so leisurely once these trains become operational in a few years’ time.

Meanwhile, I thank my son for his keen observations and feedback.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Corny French train movie

I'm not sure what this dual movie—apparently produced by the SNCF (national French railway system)—is supposed to prove… because I didn't have the courage to watch it through to the end.

You can click to make the movie fill up your entire screen, so that you won't miss out on any of the fine graphic details. And you can also click to highlight one side of the dual screen rather than the other. Besides, if you click the ABOUT button, you reach a page that invites you to download, for free, the original music of the movie.

Please let us know if you think this movie should be nominated for some kind of cinematographic award…

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sleep problems

Fortunately, I've never been affected by insomnia or sleep problems of any kind. Admittedly, I have early-morning dreams of a vivid and often disturbing nature, on precise subjects that I generally recognize. I often have the impression that I would be less anguished and generally happier during the day if only I were to cease having lugubrious dreams during the night... but that's no doubt bad psychology. Still, I mention that silly possibility because I'm in good company. Shakespeare, after all, suggested (in Hamlet's famous To be or not to be speech) that even death would lose its sting if only we could be certain beforehand that we won't have bad dreams. Consequently, if researchers were to inform us that they've located a tiny organ, or maybe a gene, that causes us to dream, I would gladly think about having it removed surgically. For the moment, though, it's a little too early to start looking around for such a medical specialist... and I'm not at all certain that the otherwise-generous French medical-benefits infrastructure would reimburse the costs of such an intervention.

But I'm getting sidetracked (railroad metaphor). Let me return to the case of people with insomnia and sleep problems. I would recommend that such individuals attempt to get in contact immediately with a 19-year-old French student in Brittany who surely deserves the title of the world champion sleeper. Maybe he could be coaxed into revealing his secret solution for sound sleep. In fact, I think I can already say that the quality of his sleep resulted from a powerful sedative of alcohol and cannabis. But let me describe the exploit for which he deserves some kind of survival award. Everybody has heard of those fantastic high-speed French trains called TGV.

Well, at the end of a September evening of copious drinking and smoking, our hero wandered off on foot, in a dazed state, into the misty Breton countryside. Feeling a little drowsy, he decided to bed down for the night between the rails of the TGV line between Paris and Quimper. Not unexpectedly, a few hours later on, a TGV happened to pass by, at a speed of a few hundred kilometers an hour. The train driver had the visual impression that he had run over a human being. He promptly stopped his train, 800 meters further down the track, and walked back to inspect the situation. He came upon our hero, apparently unharmed, and fast asleep. Finding it impossible to wake him, the train-driver phoned the local gendarmes, who soon arrived on the scene. With all these intruders gazing down on him, and trying to shake him out of his deep slumber, our hero was disturbed, indeed rightly annoyed. He sat up, yawned, half-opened his eyes, discovered the gendarmes, and promptly made a meaningful greeting sign with his extended middle finger, of the following kind:

He would have liked to get back to sleep, but the gendarmes insisted upon taking him to a cozy spot down at their barracks. Yesterday, a judge ordered him to pay 3,000 euros to the French railway authorities, to cover the expenses incurred by stopping the TGV and arriving late in Quimper. The wise judge said: "It's rare for a judge to tell an offender that he's lucky to be brought to trial. But you're a miracle case." Hearing this boring admonition from a wide-awake judge, our hero no doubt yawned and resisted with difficulty the desire to fall asleep.

PS: Do you know how we refer to wooden railroad ties in Australian English? They're called sleepers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Doubling the line

When driving between Pont-en-Royans and St-Marcellin [some ten kilometers], you have to cross the train line between Grenoble and Valence. There are several itineraries, most of which include a level crossing over the railway line. Now, whenever I cross that line, my brain recalls a certain anecdote, automatically and systematically. This is a boring nuisance, because it's always the same anecdote, and I would like to be able to say to my brain: "Hey, why can't you recall something else, something new, instead of that same old anecdote?" To be perfectly honest, it's not a bad anecdote at all... which is probably why it always reappears in my mind. Here's the story:

François Marty, a gentle native of south-west France who spoke with a quaint regional accent, was the archbishop of Paris from 1968 up until his retirement in 1981. As a farewell gift, his parishioners at Notre Dame de Paris got together enough cash to purchase an old-fashioned 2-horsepower Citroën: the vehicle that Americans named jokingly "basic automobile".

Upon receiving this gift, the delighted cardinal exclaimed enthusiastically: "This vehicle will take me to Paradise!" Then he drove off into retirement in a Dominican convent in the village of Monteils in south-west France. In 1994, at the age of 90, François Marty attempted to drive his automobile across a level crossing in the vicinity of his village. Before he reached the other side, a train smashed into him, carrying the cardinal and his sweet chariot home to God.

A few days ago, when setting out for the return trip after shopping at the supermarket in Chatte, I was surprised to discover that a familiar level crossing was blocked.

I got out of my vehicle to see what was happening, and I discovered that workers were installing a second set of rails.

I recalled that, a few days earlier, in nearby Vinay (when I was visiting the Danisco factory), I had already viewed work being carried out upon this vast project: doubling the existing railway line between Grenoble and Valence.

Alongside the blocked level crossing, a light-hearted publicity panel announced that, in 2009, we should think about taking the train on this line between Grenoble and Valence.

We see passengers from an automobile, blocked in a traffic jam on an overhead bridge, sliding down a rope to catch the train.

It's perfectly true. I really must get around to taking the train at St-Marcellin, from time to time, to visit Grenoble or Valence. It's such a pleasant and convenient solution, and far less tiring than the automobile. Besides, in Grenoble, there's a fabulous tram system to take you everywhere. When the double line speeds up the train service, there'll be no excuse for not adopting this solution. With such interesting destinations as Grenoble and Valence (pleasant provincial atmosphere, shops, restaurants, cafés, museums, etc), it might be said that trains on this line will surely take us to Paradise!

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.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

High-speed tra-la-la

Click the following banner to visit an exotic French-language website that appears to have something to do with high-speed trains, because it carries the French railways SNCF logo. But I warn readers that they might not understand anything whatsoever in this website, above all in the animated films that you're invited to watch. I say this, not because the website is allegedly in French, but because of what you might call its "style". Above all, don't search around in this website if your aim is to book a seat on a French train. By the time you start to fathom out what this website is all about, your train will have blown its whistle and left the station. On the other hand, enlightened adolescent viewers of all backgrounds [not necessarily French] will probably find this stuff perfectly comprehensible, indeed ingenious and awesome.

Need I say more? Or more exactly: Am I capable (even though I understand the French language) of explaining things to any greater extent? Well, I can at least provide you with a few superficial clues, but I wouldn't claim that they'll help you in understanding the profound sense of this website.

— First, the website has been created by folk who call themselves iDTGV. Here, the final three letters stand, of course, for train à grande vitesse: high-speed train. This acronym is so familiar now that it even exists in the standard English dictionary of my Macintosh. The first two letters, iD, would appear to be an Apple-inspired way of evoking the French word idée: idea. So, iDTGV is no doubt a group of creators with ideas for marketing train travel to adolescent clients. And the website and its animated videos starring Zen and Zap are probably their first major production.

— The hero Zen is a young male, and the heroine Zap a young female. They happen to be traveling in the same high-speed train, but it goes without saying that they would have never met up personally were it not for the creative efforts of the nice and thoughtful iDTGV folk.

Well, that's as much help as I'm going to give you [as I'm able to give you]. You should be able to take it away from there. I vaguely suspect that, through iDTGV, adolescents on train trips will be able to make their presence known, get in contact with other adolescents on the same train, and participate in all kinds of high-speed tra-la-la during their brief time in the TGV. Awesome, no? Let me know if you've understood the situation differently or better than I did.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Trains that run on time

Civilized humanity is thinking today, of course, about the earth-shaking events of a certain September 11, seen by most of us on TV, that nobody is likely to forget.

Jumping from one subject to another. In France, there's a profound old saying: Nobody's interested in trains that run on time. It means that people are concerned—indeed excited—by things that go wrong [look, for example, at the mind-boggling drama of the McCann vacation in Portugal], whereas we tend to forget about things that go right.

French trains have the habit of running on time, and this means that they're rarely front-page news... except when they break speed records. See my blog of 3 April 2007 entitled Fast track [display].

The publicity people working for the French railway system, called SNCF, have produced a nice website based upon the theme that nobody's interested in trains that run on time. It starts out by suggesting that maybe you might be interested in an exotic animal known as the Crowned Propithecus of Madagascar.

Chances are that you're even less interested in this beast than in French trains that run on time. So, we're back to scratch... unless you click the above banner, to see a delightful mini-show of the beast talking and acting like a robotic SNCF lady. Brilliant publicity work.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Paris to London by train in two hours

In London a few weeks ago, I was greatly impressed by the splendid transformation of the old St Pancras station, which will soon replace Waterloo [after 14 November] as the terminus of the Eurostar link with the Continent.

The modern rail section between the English Channel and London is referred to as High Speed 1, because it is Britain's first line capable of supporting high-speed trains of the kind that have been crisscrossing France regularly for years. This morning, a train pulverized the speed record between Paris and London. Two hours and three minutes! These two great cities are so totally different in ambience and style that it will be an amazing thrill to be able to leave one and set foot in the other a couple of hours later.

PS When I reread that last sentence I've written, I find it so trite and obvious that it almost deserves to be classed as what the French call a lapalissade. Monsieur de la Palice used to make declarations of the following kind: "No more than an hour before she died, the poor lady was perfectly alive!" A good modern example, from John Howard's Texan mate: "I think we agree: the past is over."

Sunday, July 22, 2007


On this sunny Sunday morning, I decided to drive to the Valence train station to buy a return ticket to England for five days in August. It's a splendid new station out in the countryside, catering primarily for TGV [high-speed train] links.

I've become accustomed to using the Internet to make purchases of all kinds, but I prefer a person-to-person contact in the case of train tickets. I have the impression [but I may be wrong] that the human operator in a train station has access to more information than an Internet user, and knows how to find an optimal solution to queries in a minimum of time. Above all, I guess I'm old-fashioned, since I simply like the idea of dropping in at a railway station to buy train tickets from a human employee. Besides, in the special case of the Valence TGV station, I get a kick out of visiting such a nice place, whether it's a matter of buying tickets, catching a train or picking up visitors.

On the other side of the planet, in my native New South Wales, people don't seem to have such a positive attitude towards trains as they do here in France. A few days ago, in The Sydney Morning Herald, there was a derogatory but well-written article entitled The curse of CityRail [read], which started out as follows:

Sydney is supposed to be a major global city. We're constantly telling ourselves how world-class we are, and major surveys keep agreeing - most recently we were ranked fifth best city in the world to visit. And we are the largest city in a wealthy, highly developed nation. So can someone explain to me, in extremely simple terms, why our train system is reminiscent of a third world country - or, worse still, England?

Last year, I spent no more than a month out in Australia, but that was more than sufficient to provide me with ample evidence concerning the antiquated train system. First, I wasn't able to visit Braidwood by train, because the railway doesn't even go there! Second, one afternoon, I spent over an hour in a halted Sydney north-shore suburban train, for reasons I never learned. Third, my trip up to Grafton and back provided me—without my asking—with old memories of my adolescence, because the train system doesn't seem to have evolved in any noticeable fashion since then. But I wouldn't go out of my way to complain about anything, because I have the impression that this antiquated railway system corresponds to my overall conception of my native land and its people. Australia is a place where nothing much has ever happened, and probably never will. Maybe the constant humid heat provokes torpidity, preventing people from being creative. In any case, every country has the trains it deserves.

The above-mentioned article in The Sydney Morning Herald includes a significant reflection: We're constantly telling ourselves how world-class we are... To my mind, most praise of Sydney is indeed locally-produced hype. I'm not so sure that many non-Australians are convinced that Sydney is "world-class", whatever that might mean. For European visitors, Sydney is definitely not a charming city. Once you've had a beer in one of the few surviving pubs at the Rocks, strolled through the Botanic Gardens, wandered around the Darling Harbour area and taken a ferry to Manly, you've "done" Sydney. There's truly nothing more to be seen there... unless, of course, you're a native-born Australian, like me, who finds it meaningful to visit the place where Braidwood bushrangers were hanged, and to drive with one of my sisters to the shoreline of La Pérouse, where the vessels of the French navigator were seen for the last time. In other words, Australia is a great place for Australians, who are sensitive to its interest and charms, and don't necessarily mind if the train system is shitty. Things only start to go haywire if you're tempted to make silly and unnecessary comparisons between Sydney and great cities such as London, Paris, Rome, Venice, Jerusalem...

The author of the article in The Sydney Morning Herald mentions a recent ranking of Sydney as the "fifth best city in the world to visit". To appreciate correctly the significance of such a judgment, one would need to know more about its origins. If, for example, we're talking of a poll conducted by a travel magazine that caters essentially for globe-trotting Florida widows, then we should view its findings with a certain relativity. In any case, visitors of that kind don't catch trains, neither in New South Wales nor anywhere else.

Having said all this, I do believe that the fellow in charge of trains in New South Wales [whose identity I ignore] should pull his finger out, and look around for ideas about improvements and evolution. And I'm sure I'm not the only Australian with this opinion.