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The story of
French rail

From its beginnings in 1827, the French rail industry has been driven by colourful personalities, cultural revolutions and ingenious solutions to technological challenges. Learn more about the history of French rail and the people behind it.



  1. ...
  2. 1967
  3. 1969
  4. 1974
  5. 1975
  6. 1981
  7. 1983
  8. ...

1981

380 KM/H: THE TGV SETS THE WORLD RECORD

By 3.05 p.m. on Thursday, 26 February 1981, more than 100 journalists had gathered in Pasilly, France. They watched as TGV No. 16, a very high-speed train, shot out of the station and accelerated to 340, 360, then 370 km/h. Finally, at Moulins-en-Tonnerois, the train reached 380 km/h, breaking the world speed record at 3.41 p.m.


At 6.30 a.m. on Sunday, 27 September 1981, an unusually large crowd streamed into the Gare de Lyon in Paris, converging on the platform next to the first commercial TGV. At 7.15 a.m. Train No. 807 departed ceremoniously for Lyon’s Perrache station: along the way, its 300 passengers would travel at 260 km/h for the first time. Twenty-five years later, that number had swelled to more than one billion.

SNCF’s first advertising campaign­—“Gagnez du temps sur le temps” or “Steal time from time”—went straight to the point: a TGV gets there faster than a plane, and much faster than a car. For rail travel, the next boom was right around the corner.

 

 


1983

ÉPIC SNCF IS CREATED

On 31 December 1982, the 1937 agreement expired and SNCF became an ÉPIC, defined as a state-owned enterprise responsible for managing a public service of an industrial and commercial nature. As sole shareholder, the French State has full operational autonomy.

Learn more about ÉPIC SNCF

 


1987

TER: A NEW BRAND FOR QUALITY REGIONAL SERVICE

In 1984, French regional transport began to decentralize, and SNCF opened negotiations with regional authorities with an eye to reaching agreements on regional service. By 1987, agreements were in place in all but three regions, and SNCF launched Transport Express Régional (TER)—a new brand with its own charter.


The company planned to revamp “local” service (previously called “omnibus” trains), and give it a new, quality-oriented brand, modernizing regional rail, increasing traffic and highlighting the role of SNCF and French regions.
The new TER logo gradually appeared on equipment, in stations and on sales materials, and SNCF offered a more unified livery for rail equipment, which often varied widely. Under the new plan, each region could choose from among four colours—red, green, yellow and blue—and display its own logo in a specific place. The TER brand would also replace “Micheline”, another name often applied to railcars by secondary-line passengers.


1990

TGV ATLANTIQUE MAKES HISTORY AT 515.3 KM/H

On 18 May 1990, TGV No. 325 reached 515.3 km/h as it neared the station in Vendôme, France, shattering the previous world speed record. Only nine years after the first TGVs had begun running between Paris and Lyon, SNCF had established itself as a master of high-speed technology.


To serve the Atlantic line, SNCF ordered a series of 105 high-speed trainsets, which were delivered between 1988 and 1992. Sporting a new blue and silver livery, these next-generation TGVs offered better performance, more comfort, and increased profitability.

Designed to run at 300 km/h, the trains had a more powerful braking system and new pantographs specially designed for their higher top speed. Cab signalling also reflected the change in technology, and many of the instruments on board were computerized.


1994

HIGH-SPEED SERVICE FROM PARIS TO LONDON AND LILLE TO LYON

The Channel Tunnel project was approved on 20 January 1986, and the tunnel was officially inaugurated on 6 May 1994 by French President François Mitterrand and Queen Elizabeth II.


The tunnel is used by Eurotunnel shuttles transporting trucks, automobiles and coaches between Calais and Folkestone, as well as freight trains. And since 14 November 1994, high-speed Eurostar trains have whisked passengers between Paris and London in just three hours.

In 1993, France had three TGV lines, all departing from Paris, but that year SNCF began building a province-to-province line that avoided the capital and other densely populated urban areas. This new line improved regional connections and formed a genuine high-speed network, allowing trains to run at 270 km/h and ultimately stretching across Europe.


1996

THALYS AND DUPLEX TRAINS

After Eurostar, the focus shifted to connecting Paris with Brussels, Cologne and Amsterdam. Thalys, with its distinctive red and grey train sets, was equipped with all of the signalling, safety and current collection systems for France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, and could operate on all four networks.


In late 1996, SNCF began operating a series of 30 new double-decker TGVs on the Paris-Lyon line. With 516 seats, the new Duplex trains expanded capacity by 40%.