So what’s the big deal about high-speed rail networks in Europe and at home? Rail Europe brings to you the eighth and final post in a series of interviews from top executives of high-speed trains for an inside scoop. We’re featuring their inspirational words on our blog about every two weeks for the past several months. At the end of each post, we ask a trivia question and you have 24 hours to answer in our blog comments. From all correct answers, one winner will be selected to receive two complimentary rail tickets on the featured rail company’s high-speed network – up to a $599 value. High-Speed Trivia Sweepstakes, see how fast can you answer!
Read on for the eighth post of our series: Barbara Dalibard, CEO SNCF Voyages (Long Distance Department, SNCF)
How did your railway get started?
THE IDEA of a high speed train in France was born in the late 1960s after the start of Japanese high speed train, Shinkansen. First, SNCF and Alsthom explored the possibility of a high speed gas turbine unit. The 1st prototype, TGV001, was delivered by Alsthom on October 25, 1971. On December 8, 1972, this prototype set the world speed record at 318 km/h (198 mph) for a train in autonomous traction. Due to the oil crisis in 1973, SNCF and Alsthom changed from gas turbine to electric traction saving the consumption of 150,000 tons of petrol per year! The design of the original TGV is attributed to Jack Cooper who worked for Alsthom; he was given the specifications to “design a train that didn’t look like a train”. In 1974, Mr Pompidou, a former French President, officially launched this project. On September 27, 1981, TGV carried its first passengers from Paris to Lyon. Thanks to TGV, France has played a key role in the world history of High Speed Trains, with SNCF still in the leading role in Europe.
I was really proud to celebrate TGV’s 30th birthday in 2011 and to see how TGV is an integral part of the French people‘s life: 83% of the French have traveled at least once on a TGV! And earlier this year, in January 2013, we reached a record mark: 2 billion passengers have traveled on our high speed trains – what a success story! For that I would like to thank all SNCF agents who are so committed and proud of their work, as they should be.
Where do you see the future of your railway 10 years from now?
SNCF aims to be leader of sustainable mobility. My goal is to help our clients move from point A to point B easily, seamlessly, using every SNCF means of transport. To do so, I ask my teams to keep innovating with new offers, to be inspired by every new technology or way of living. Finally, international development is a key element of our strategy. We already have international partnerships with all our neighbors around France and we want to reinforce these partnerships to increase our network.
What can you say to convince an American, Canadian, Mexican to take a ride on one of your trains?
TGV drives you to more than 220 cities in France. Choose your comfort level (1st or 2nd class) and let us take you on a scenic, safe, high speed journey. In 3 hours you can travel from Paris to Marseille on the Mediterranean or go skiing in the Alps; in 1 hour, you can be visiting Champagne vineyards or chateaux in the Loire. Thanks to our subsidiaries and partners, you can also visit the European capitals easily: Paris-London in 2h15 with Eurostar, Paris-Brussels in 1h25 with Thalys, Paris-Milano in 7h by TGV and, by the end of this year, Paris-Barcelona in just 6h.