One of the aims of this new “Quick takes” category here is for me to write things something longer than a toot or tweet, but not as well thought out as longer-form blog posts.
So here goes.
This toot – boosted into my Mastodon home feed by Aarne Granlund this morning – refers to this piece by Euronews about SNCF’s new Alstom TGVs that have just been sent to Velim in Czechia to be tested.
The piece is so full of industry puff I’m going to use an old blogger technique on it – a fisking. Taking it apart, line be line.
Title: “Greener, faster, more accessible: A sneak peek inside France’s new generation of TGV trains”
Greener – a little. We’ll come to that.
Faster – no. These new trains will run at 320km/h, which is precisely the speed of the current ones.
More accessible – perhaps. More on that below.
But yes, it is a new generation of TGV trains. There is at least that!
The first two paragraphs state the basics.
Then we get this:
“The double-decker train has 740 seats, up from TGV’s current maximum of 634 – a 20 per cent increase in capacity.”
Well for a start that’s 16.7%, not 20%. But it is more complicated that that. 634 seats is the current capacity of a TGV Duplex in operation by OUIGO. Double decker TGVs used for the inOui services are being rebuilt to have 556 seats, up from 509. The 740 figure comes from Alstom’s press release as a maximum, that is then stated categorically by Euronews (“has 740 seats”) – but we have no way of knowing what interior setup these new TGVs are going to have. Mockups by Alstom show an inOui livery, not OUIGO. So yes, higher capacity, but by how much – we do not yet know. It ought to read “could have up to 740 seats”.
“It is also greener than its predecessors, slashing CO2 emissions by 37 per cent and made of 97 per cent recyclable components.”
Oh dear. Where do we even begin?
Probably where the journalist began – with a SNCF press release. That states “the TGV M will consume 20% less energy than today’s models, and its carbon footprint will be 37% smaller”. The press release does not state what the carbon footprint comprises – I presume it relates to the manufacturing process?
Also every single TGV in regular service since their introduction in 1981 has been electric. So the life cycle CO2 emissions of all TGVs depend on how the electricity the trains use is generated, and SNCF mostly purchases nuclear generated electricity from EDF – already low carbon.
And 97% of recyclable components sounds nice, but trains are mostly steel and aluminium – that are quite easy to recycle and always have been. Older Alstom designs are 93% recyclable. So this is a 4% improvement.
“Its modular design means the number of cars, as well as their interior layouts, can be adjusted easily according to need.”
Wow. It can do what trains have always been able to do!
OK, perhaps I was a little snarky. TGVs generally operate in a fixed 8 carriage formation, and this design will allow formations of 7 to 9 carriages. But it’s still not going to be as flexible as a locomotive and carriages where you can add extra carriages – because to add extras you need to take the train to a workshop, due to the TGV’s Jacobs Bogie design.
“The new TGV M trains are designed for a comfortable ride. Bigger windows offer panoramic views, the lighting adapts to the intensity of the natural light in the train, and 5G wifi will be available onboard.”
This is a tricky one, as I do not have window dimensions. But here you can see a side picture of the new TGV at Velim (I can’t include it here as it’s not CC Licensed), and here’s detail of an existing TGV Duplex carriage:
Perhaps the windows in the new design are a fraction larger?
Adaptive lighting will indeed be nice, but I am damned sure that is not going to be installed on the OUIGO version of the new TGV with 740 seats. And 5G mobile connection to the train, providing wifi on board, is standard already.
“They also better accommodate passengers with reduced mobility, including wheelchair users and the visually impaired. They will be the first TGVs to offer fully independent access to the train – via a pivoting lifting platform.”
This one is complex. At the moment TGVs have an on board lift down into the lower level, that is operated by staff. So if passengers themselves can operate this it ought to be some progress. But making a double deck TGV design step and lift free from a 55cm platform is impossible I think.
“Advanced sensors that send real-time data will improve maintenance procedures and increase the availability of the services.
A lengthened nose makes the train more aerodynamic, facilitating speeds of up to 320 km/h.”
This is at least correct – it does not state here the trains are faster. Because they are not, as current TGVs also do 320km/h.
“SNCF has ordered 115 TGV M trains worth €3.3 billion, with 100 expected to serve on domestic railways and 15 in international transport.”
Earlier in the piece the theoretical maximum seat number became categoric, and here we have the opposite. Given SNCF has ordered 100 of these trains for national services, and 15 for international services, this is not an expectation. That is what will happen.
“Though tested in the Czech Republic, the trains will be manufactured in France.”
Sort of correct. Although some testing might well happen in Austria as well, and more testing will happen in France as well.
“They are set to debut on France’s national network from 2024. The trains will run between Paris, Lyon and Marseille and will be used for both the INOUI and OUIGO TGV services.”
2 paragraphs earlier it was stated 15 of the trains were for international routes. And now this?
This is just general bla bla. At the moment we do not know exactly which lines these new TGVs will run on, although given Paris-Lyon-Marseille is the most important I suppose it is a fair expectation they will run there first, but probably not exclusively. But again the phrasing here is weak.
So overall yes, SNCF has ordered 115 TGVs of a new generation and the first are on test. These trains will be the same speed as earlier designs, be a little greener, and have slightly higher capacity. What they are going to be like inside, whether they will be more passenger friendly, and where they will run first, is yet to be determined – although we do know 100 of them will run in France and 15 of them will run internationally.