Are you planning to visit Paris from Germany anytime soon? You can actually visit Paris without ever leaving the ground, How? by taking the national rail company. That’s what one could feel like calling it when referring to the brand new high-speed train transport connection which just went into operation between Paris and Strasbourg, directly on the German border.
Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (photo courtesy of http://www.railholidays.com/)
With the recent introduction of the latest TGV high-speed train connection begins a new era in European train travel. Service between Paris and Strasbourg, in effect the travel time it takes you to reach Germany from Paris or vice versa has just been reduced to a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes.
That’s a full 1 hour and 40 minutes faster than it used to take (a full 4 hours or more was normal up until now for the same stretch). TGV Trains (trains à grande vitesse) are now traveling on the new 252-mile stretch via Reims, Metz and Nancy up to speeds of 199 mph. If you want to try a different experience, Steam rail tours can let you soak up unparalleled vistas of glossy lakes and verdant valleys that are overlooked by stately mountains.
The trains traveling on the old stretch, although also high-speed TGVs, were only able to reach a maximum speed of 186 mph, and that only rarely. The new stretch has been constructed in a fashion which will let these silver rockets on rails utilize their maximum potential.
It was on a stretch like this that a TGV broke it’s own record for the fastest wheeled train on April 3 this year, reaching an incredible 357 mph. The French national rail company Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, should really stand for Super Nutty Crazy Fast. It goes without saying that these trains also hold the record for the world’s highest average speed for regular passenger service, too.
For Strasbourg and neighboring hotels in Germany, the new connection will mean more tourists and vastly improved business connections. Some experts even expect a real estate boom for Strasbourg, not unlike the one currently taking place on the French side of the Channel Tunnel. Here many British residents have bought homes and commute to London using the “chunnel’s” high-speed connection. The same type of thing might appeal to Parisians who would prefer living in Strasbourg instead.
The extensive TGV network radiates north, south, east and west of Paris and now comprises over 1,200 miles of track, many different branches of the line also cutting time for other French cities. But this new high-speed connection to Strasbourg will now reduce travel time to other major European cities, as well. The travel time from Paris to Frankfurt has now been dropped to just under four hours, and a trip to Stuttgart only takes 30 minutes longer. With these kinds of comfortable travel times, who needs to hassle with flying anymore?
But the trains don’t reach the end of the line here. Plans are now underway to eventually connect one section of this ultra-modern TGV network to European cities as far as Barcelona and Budapest. The EU has earmarked approximately $30 billion to finance a massive trans-European high-speed network which it hopes will be completed by 2015.
A new rail bridge over the Rhein to Germany is expected to be open in 2011. Strasbourg will eventually be the X that marks the spot between two major TGV lines, an axes point between a line running between Paris, Munich, Vienna, and Budapest and a line running between Hamburg, Frankfut, Lyon, and Barcelona.
So when this first new-age train made its maiden voyage to Strasbourg with 360 passengers on board one Sunday morning in early June, arriving right on time and continuing on to Stuttgart, it somehow reminded me of the historic meeting between the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads on Promontory Summit, Utah way back in 1869.
In this case, however, two different nations and train technologies were being joined together. Unlike the old stretches which pass through Germany and France, the high-speed German ICE will now be able to travel upon the new high-speed stretch, as well.
This big step forward between Germany and France might not appear to be quite as dramatic as the establishment of the First Transcontinental Railroad in the United States, but the implications it has for the further integration new Europe, and for the ever-closer ties between old Europe’s old arch enemies, are also more dramatic than you might think.