Train speed on the NEC – a follow-up

Rep. John Mica, R-Fl.
Rep. John Mica, R-Fl.

Back in May I wrote a pair of posts triggered by Rep. Mica’s ostensible desire to bring improvements to the Northeast Corridor through private investment. My first post dwelt on some of the logistical impediments to building a new service on the East Coast, and of course on the economies of improving the existing infrastructure, rather than starting over. My second one focused on the specific speeds necessary to accomplish Rep. Mica’s stated goals, and tried to sketch out in broad terms what the cost of attaining those goals might be.

I wish very much that I had thought to look at foreign trains when I wrote that second piece. In all of the years I have worked for Amtrak, I have learned to expect two comments from about 90% of the people I speak with and mention I work at Amtrak. The first thing nearly everyone says is, “I Love trains!” Often that is followed up a sentence or two later with some variation of, “When I/my folks/my kids/my neighbor/my boss/my barber was in Europe/Japan, I/he/she/they rode the TGV and it was amazing. Why don’t you guys do that?” Sigh. [The answer I yearn to offer is to point out no one ever did us the favor of bombing us flat in the 1940s, and no one did us the subsequent favor of offering us a Marshall Plan. But I digress.]

So how does the newest TGV line in France stack up against Amtrak’s much criticized 86 mph average speed (that Mica likes to portray as our top speed)? This post over at the Ticket Punch dates to the June 2007 inauguration of the new LGV Est line France, between Paris and Strasbourg. You may recall that line is what the French used when they set their dazzling April 2007 steel-on-steel speed record of 357 mph. (Terrific video of the record here.) Conveniently, the Ticket Punch has done the math for us, so I will simply quote him here:

The new TGV Est line just opened between Paris and the border city of Strasbourg. Trains on this line, which is exactly 300 kilometers long, will run at a maximum speed of 320 km/hr.

So that means you’ll get from Paris to Strasbourg in less than a hour, right? Er, no. Scheduled time, end to end, is 2 hr 20 min. For an average speed of 129 km/hr, or 80 mph.

A comparable distance on the Northeast Corridor is New York-Baltimore. Acelas cover that distance in . . . wait for it . . . 2 hr 15 min.

Maybe the private passenger rail opportunity Rep. Mica should pursue is offering the French some of our American expertise so they can manage to speed their trains up?

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2 thoughts on “Train speed on the NEC – a follow-up

  1. The Ticket Punch is -very- wrong. The distance between Paris and Strasbourg is significantly greater than 300km; it’s actually more like 450km. And with a future journey time of 1h50 per Wikipedia, that would give it an average speed of 245 km/h or 152 mph!

  2. Nuts. I should have checked his math. Let’s see… Google plots the distance as, roughly 400 km (as the crow flies, the train miles may well be higher), so that’s 173 km/hr, or 107 mph. At 1:50, you would then be looking at 218 km/hr, or 135 mph. That counts as fast, no doubt, although it’s slower than most Americans imagine TGV travel, as top speed and average speed are too often confused.

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