TGV Sud Est, original livery - CC / Flickr
TGV Sud Est, original livery - CC / Flickr

The early spring sunshine is setting behind a straggle of clouds strewn across the agricultural plains of that non-descript part of France somewhere between Bourgogne and Paris. In the blink of an eye we’ll be looping around Paris and heading north to Brussels.

But before that, a pause, for this rail line is a symbol of the France of 2010 more than any other.

Opened to commercial service in September 1981 between Lyon and Paris, the 270 km/h LGV Sud Est line marked the start of proper high speed rail in Europe. The track was laid straight across field and forest, the most direct line between the two major urban centres, bettering the aeroplane.

The TGV railsets that ran then still ply the route to this day, a fantastic design that has still never caused any victim on board a train due to a derailment or accident. 16 car, double decker versions swell the capacity today, serving towns and cities as far apart as Lausanne, Milan, Nice, Marseille and Perpignan. The trains are engineered by Alstom, national champion befitting of French pride.

Yet a glance out of the window shows the other France. Tractors in wheat fields, charolais cows stood motionless in the deep mud puddles under the boughs of old oak trees, neat lines of vines lining the hills. Clusters of stone houses grouped around churches in small villages from a bygone era. Meandering, unlined roads tracing their way through ill tended deciduous woods.

Which of these is France? The blue and silver work of engineering mastery, or the slow rural life? Both I suppose. Reflect on that the next time you’re on the TGV heading south from Paris.

4 Comments

  1. @Damien – was writing the post in MS Word… clearly breeds of cows were not in the spell check! Now corrected! 🙂

  2. Damien Hall

    I agree with Steph, above. I loved this post. It paints a picture of the France I love (particularly the rural-idyll part). Thanks! Incidentally, it’s ‘charolaiS’.

  3. Lovely post. As someone with a foot in both camps, it’s interesting to see just how diverse the France of 2010 really is. You picked two contrasting scenes: there are many more, even within urban areas, of course.

    The idea of Britain being excellent at both modern train engineering and the rural idyll seems far-fetched, oddly.

  4. C’est ça la France !
    It’s a beautiful scenery. I used to take that line often, and used to call that part of the journey “le pays des vâches” (Burgundy actually). There are just everywhere. A true “image d’Epinal” as we say.

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