TGV ups the game in rail transportation

Ever since the first TGV departed on its journey between Paris and Lyon in 1981, France has sped ahead of the rest of Europe in the race to build a fully functioning high-speed rail network. Now, with almost 1,250 miles of specially built lines linking many of the country’s major cities, France is looking for new ways to extend its TGV network.

Unveiling the official vision for the network last year, the government announced its intention to double the amount of high-speed track to about 2,500 miles by 2020.

The work, which aims to connect parts of the provinces as yet untouched by the TGV, is expected to cost about €18bn. "Our priority is to accelerate the transfer from road to rail and to give an alternative to short-haul air travel," said Jean-Marie Guillemot from the RFF, the body that runs France's rail infrastructure. "Regions which have, until now, been badly served by the TGV are about to be prioritised."

Four major projects top the list of developments to be completed by 2015. One of the projects aims to extend the line that runs from Paris to Le Mans all the way to Rennes, the capital of Brittany. A second project will connect the southern cities of N�mes and Montpellier. Another plan is to finish the final 60 miles of the eastern line, so that a Parisian commuter can reach Strasbourg in just one hour and 50 minutes (knocking half an hour off the journey time). The biggest project to be tackled is a line linking Tours, in the Loire Valley, to Bordeaux with 220 miles of track.

The RFF says the project will allow cut journey time from Bordeaux to Paris to just over two hours, with capacity for five million extra journeys a year. Elsewhere, emergency surgery is needed to fix problems on existing lines – particularly the original 370-mile route that links the capital with Lyon, which is near saturation point due to its popularity.

Speaking in London last year, Guillaume Pepy, president of the SNCF (the French national rail authority) said that not building a four-track railway had been a mistake.

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