Sur la T.G.V.
It's 8 O'Clock - UK time, Monday morning. An hour later here in France; I'm sitting in a train, waiting for it to leave on the 09:09 service to Frankfurt; a Perl course this week, and I having looked at the travel options (drive, fly), I thought I would try the public transport - surface - option. Try it as something of an experience - and it's proving to be that, all right.
The train I'm in now is a TGV - "Train de Grand Vitesse" and it promises high speed; we'll see. Friends on the rail campaign side were - err - shocked the other day when they learned I had never been on one of these. But what Lisa wrote the other day - "when we took up the campaign for an improved service, we knew little about trains" was pretty true - at least in terms of recent knowledge; I do have historic knowledge as a trainspotter, and even in those days used to ask "why" about certain things - but the era of those trains and services faded out years ago and really came to a final full stop on 22nd May when the last of the "slammers" - the electric stock I was brought up on - was withdrawn from service.
Passing through the Paris suburbs, gaining speed ...
It has struck me so far on this trip as to just how much infrastructure the French railway network - SNCF - still has in place. And how much stock there is on the track. Much of the infrastructure, and many of the trains are old, but they seem to be built like tanks. The electric locos are probably not the same ones that I saw in my late teens when I visited France (that's the late 1960s /), but they look the same. And coming to the terminus station at le Havre yesterday, 4 platforms, 3 of them were occupied with one of these locos and coaches. The fourth was a more modern, double decker unit - probably a high speed type. And the three trains (push pulls - DVT types on one end) were - what - 10 carriages.
Sunday services are sparse, and our train to Paris was full-and-standing by the time it left Rouen, passing big and busy freight yards - but with huge numbers of freight locos parked up. Some looked in good condition; others had clearly not moved for quite some time, and had huge graffiti-esque labels to the effect that they were out of service.
... we are now on the true high speed line. I'm in a middle seat; not sure of the speed, but probably moving faster than I even have done overland before.
Most seats are taken; indeed, I was offered a choice of the 19:01 train this evening as part of my "pass" - at an extra fee of 10 Euros - or a much higher ("only remainingclass" fare) to travel on this 09:09. The heavy pack I am carrying (20 Perl manuals) is frankly doing my back no good at all, so I've plumped for the easier routing and I'm reminded once again of "go anywhere" rail passes that the British approach (just let people get on and go with the passes) isn't shared elsewhere in the world. "There are no seats left on any other trains at that price today". Hmm. Reminds me of an Amtrac pass where we had similar problems. I think it's "you can travel as much as you like, you can travel on any line ... so it's unlimited." Except that you can't travel on the useful lines at useful times. Hey - I've not got time to rant - I should sit back, enjoy a first class experience ... and indeed here is (my second!) breakfast.
When the canals were built, they were as flat as possible. Water doesn't flow uphill, and the extreme measures of locks are necessary for any change of level at all. So when it came to building the railways, and an element of slope could be accepted, it was a great new freedom to take transport on previously impractical routes. For sure, there was still a very strict limit - with cable assistance to get the trains up the hill and out of the terminal at Euston and Glasgow (Queen Street), but increased locomotive power did away for this need and allowed progressively more hilly routes. Think of the Lickey Incline, the Folkestone Harbour line, and the Cromford and High Peak.
But this TGV experience shows how the french engineers who built the line had almost another degree of freedom. As I sit in the train, I can feel us climbing one hill, going over the top, then down the next. Not exactly a roller coaster, but a vertical acceleration I would have associated with an aircraft of a lift and not with a train. I don't suppose the gradients are great, in reality - just that the speed at which we're traveling makes them very noticeable.
09:18, UK time ...
The clerk was apologetic at the fare (and I did a sharp intake of breath too) for this ride this morning. And - look above at my <rant> about "freedom" tickets which turn out to be not quite what's advertised. But I've been doing some calculations.
And for a peak first class single, I have paid 48p per mile. That's included a breakfast served at seat (and I'm hopeful for another coffee before Frankfurt ;-) ). Now let's see ... what would I pay for a peak single from Chippenham to Paddington? Well - actually rather more per mile, second class, crammed into close airline seats if I was lucky enough to get one. A complimentary cup of coffee? You must be Joe King. Let alone cheese, salami, yogurt and a bread roll. Not perfect on the TGV though - the lettuce leaf was wilted and the whole thing so over packaged as to be the opposite of green!
I wish my French was better. I can understand when people talk to me and I can make myself know (and NOT in the usual British way of halving my speed and doubling my volume), but I can't make out all the ontrain announcements.
So I'm not sure if the reason that we stopped, near Rouen, for an hour yesterday was because someone had chucked him (or her) self in front of our train, or another train ... or indeed it had been an accident, or even if someone had passed away on our train. There was a resigned patience from the people on the train - full and standing from the latest stop at Rouen - and information (all be in in fast French) from the conductor while we waited. I *could* make out his time estimates - starting from "don't know how long we'll be" to "another 15 minutes" and then "we'll be moving shortly".
And I did note - as we came off the platform at Paris, St Lazare, that staff were handing out claim forms.
... we're passing through Forbach ... 09:48 (UK time). Plenty of freight parked up, and a couple of nice, modern looking 3 car double deck emu (Electrical Multiple Units) parked just away from the platform. I can only assume that it's far cheaper to build and maintain trains in France than it is in the UK, or they're hugely subsidized, or the UK system has to make so much profit for so many people that it drains the investment and forces the operators to take as much money as they can while giving as little resources as they can.
... and we are now pulling in to Saarbrucken, so the announcements have switched to German as the first announcement language.
Posted from Nuremburg - 10 hours and 2 more trains later! Hot, sticky, but a fun day. (written 2010-06-07, updated 2010-06-09)
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