By Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director
RailPAC Vice President North Art Lloyd and Director Bruce Jenkins joined a High Speed Rail Tour of France on September 13 thru 18th. The Tour was superbly guided by Rick Harnish, Executive Director of MidWestern High Speed Rail Association, who is also on the board of NARP. The tour was under the auspices of “The Society of International Railway Travelers”, Louisville, Ky. Eleanor Hardy Pres. The tour was five jam packed days of riding subways, trolleys, trams, funicular and Hi Speed Rail. We went to France with the opinion that the U.S. is a third world country in passenger rail transit, but this tour changed that opinion to forth world country in rail passenger transit!
We started in Paris where we rode the Metro subway to the “Centre National des Operations Ferrroviaires” (CNOF) which is the national headquarters for all passenger and freight trains, coordinating 22 regional headquarters, supervising main lines and main trains and communicating with customers thru national media. This is the nerve center for Paris mass transportation. It was very impressive.
Tuesday we departed Paris Gare-Montparnasse by fist class train TGV 8305 for La Rochelle and Bordeaux (the tour had all reserved seats). Today we were the guests of Alstom in La Rochelle. We were met at the train station and transported to the Alstom plant by private bus where we were given a power point presentation and a detailed tour of the factory. We were then transported to a shore side restaurant for a sumptuous lunch of local seafood and wines, then transferred to the train station to ride First class train D3835 to Bordeaux. We were very much impressed with the engineering, fabrication techniques and sound deadening measures Alstom uses in their cars.
Wednesday we took a tram tour of Bordeaux. We were shown and got to ride the new third rail trams. This system employs electronic synchronized power. The 3rd rail is only “live” under the car where the power shoe makes contact with the rail, making the system very safe. We subsequently boarded our first class train D4663 for arrival in Montpellier at 7PM where we spent the night.
Thursday we departed Montpellier at 08:24 for Lyon on first class train TGV 5166. Arrived Lyon-Part-Diue where we checked our luggage and then went on a sightseeing tour riding a cog tram (a larger version of Angels Flight in LA) for a spectacular view of the city. Returning to the station to reclaim our luggage and board the new light rail from Lyon-Part-Diue to Lyon Saint Exupery Airport. This airport is spectacular. Massive arches and elliptical structure rendering huge open spaces. We boarded train TGV 6920 for Paris. TGV enforces quiet in first class with frequent signage forbidding cell phone usage and encourages limited quiet conversation. While waiting for our train we were treated to some TGV trains passing at track speed (200 plus mph). We were separated from these tracks by a concrete sound wall which mitigated some sound but we did experience high level white noise for no more than 2 seconds.
Friday we departed Paris-Est by first class TGV 9553 for Saarbruecken Germany where we were the guests of Siemens. We were picked up at the station by private bus and taken to a spectacular castle retreat where we were served lunch and wines followed by a power point presentation depicting Siemens history and the development of high speed trains through the years in Germany. We were deposited back to the station to board first class train ICE 9564 for our return to Paris. Farewell dinner at 7PM in the Restaurant Le Train Bleu in Gare de Lyon station, a city landmark, a magnificently decorated restaurant almost a city block long which overlooks the boarding platforms.
This tour was highly educational and thoughtfully put together. A demanding pace, but well worth the money and time and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Rick Harnish and Eleanor Hardy (Society of International Railway Travelers) are putting together another tour for next year to ride the HSR in Germany. If anyone is interested go to: www.irtsociety.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.