This month, the French company Alstom Transport is testing its brand new “very high speed” train, the AGV (or Automotrice à Grande Vitesse), on live tracks in Eastern France. Unlike most trains, which have a single engine car in the front or back, the AGV has a series of distributed motors underneath the passenger carriages, which saves space and allows the train to carry 20% more passengers. (Notice in the photo below how little space there is from the nose of the train to the first passenger seats.)
The AGV is being tested over 12 nights this month on the Eastern high-speed line, between the Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine stations, at its ideal speed of 224 mph. In comparison, the American high speed Acela train travels at a top speed of 150 mph.
The test train is outfitted with 4,000 sensors that will look at both the train’s overall mechanical capabilities, as well as the interior passenger compartment. Although significant testing has already been done with computer models and on closed course test tracks, it is impossible to perfectly replicate the environment a train will face on live tracks.
Some of the features being tested at high speeds include the train’s acoustics, vibration levels, wheel-to-rail dynamics, and forces exerted upon passengers. Additionally, safety features, such as the emergency braking mechanism is being tested through the activation of the brakes on tracks made slippery with soapy water. This is intended to simulate extreme conditions, such as when leaves may be covering the rails.
Additionally, electromagnetic interference will be measured by using aerial sensors hung above the tracks. This is to ensure that the train does not interfere with local radio and TV reception, as well as to make sure its own communications systems will work.
Alstom, which also builds the TGV and Eurostar trains, hopes that if the AGV passes these live tests it will receive final European certification by next year so that it can begin delivering production models by 2010. Already, Italian transportation company NTV has ordered 25 trainsets, with an option to buy 10 more.
Not only is the AGV able to transport more people at higher speeds, but it is also environmentally friendly. The AGV has low greenhouse gas emissions, with approximately 2.2g for every km traveled per passenger, which is 13 times less than a bus (30g), 50 times less than a car (115g) and 70 times less than a plane (153g). Of course, as the electricity generated to electrify the train gets cleaner, so will the train.
Fortunately, it seems Europe and Asia are not the sole locations embracing high speed rail. Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in focus on high speed rail in the United States, with the passage of Prop 1A in California, the election of apparent clean tech and infrastructure advocate Barack Obama, and the continuing development of potential projects in Texas, the Midwest, Florida, the Pacific Northwest, and possibly Minnesota. Hopefully, further developments like the AGV in Europe will inspire the U.S. to continue along this path, and maybe someday we’ll see this amazing train in America.