June 10 sees the launch of revenue services on LGV Est Européen, slashing journey times from Paris to Metz, Nancy, Strasbourg and a host of other towns, as well as expanding international and inter-regional links. Chris Jackson reports from Strasbourg

STRIDING ACROSS the hills and valleys of northeast France for 300 km between Vaires and Baudrecourt, the Ligne à Grande Vitesse Est Européen is a very visible commitment to the future prosperity of the region it serves.

Representing an investment of €5·5bn by the national and local governments, RFF and SNCF, the line is expected to bring significant economic benefits in terms of inward investment, tourism and international commerce. Following the completion of the V150 high speed test programme, the route is being readied for the start of revenue operation on June 10. Tickets for the first services went on sale from April 1, and within a month SNCF had recorded more than 300 000 bookings, of which around half were taking advantage of promotional fares.

To show off the new line and its refurbished trainsets, SNCF Chief Executive Guillaume Pepy launched a pre-opening Marche Découvert programme of special trains for VIPs and invited guests on May 2.

LGV Est is the first line in France designed for regular operation at 320 km/h, although trains have been running 'experimentally' at this speed on a section of LGV Méditerranée for some years. The Est route is worked by a fleet of 52 trainsets, comprising 33 refurbished TGV Réseau sets and 19 TGV POS sets formed from Réseau trailers mated with new multi-system power cars.

As the new line does not serve any of the region's major towns directly, SNCF will operate a complex mix of services using various connections with the existing network. There will be three main blocks of services - domestic inter-city trains to and from Paris, inter-regional TGVs connecting Strasbourg with other parts of France, using connections to and from LGV Interconnexion between Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle and Marne-la-Vallée, and international trains linking Paris with Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland. From June 10 the line will carry 54 trains each way per day, which SNCF says is 85% of the planned total.

Serving the Champagne-Ardenne region, eight trains/day will link Paris and Reims in just 45 min, with one continuing to Charleville-Mézières and another to Sedan. There will also be two trains each way to and from Bar-le-Duc. Nancy will get 10 trains/day each way, of which two will continue to Remiremont and one to St Dié. Metz will also be served by 10 trains/day. The biggest winner is Strasbourg, which will get 16 trains each way to and from the capital.

Whereas the domestic services will diverge from the new line to serve existing city-centre stations, the inter-regional trains will not. Six trains/day will start from Strasbourg, with three running to Lille via LGV Nord and one each to Rennes, Nantes and Bordeaux via LGV Atlantique. These six will serve the three intermediate stations built along the new line. All will call at Lorraine TGV - equidistant between Metz and Nancy - and at Champagne-Ardenne TGV on the outskirts of Reims, but the Bordeaux service will be the only train of the day serving Meuse TGV.

The TGV POS sets will operate international services on three routes, with five of the Metz services extended to and from Luxembourg each day. Six of the Strasbourg trains will run through to Mulhouse, of which four will continue to Basel and two (later three) to Zürich. Initially another three trains will be extended from Strasbourg to Karlsruhe and Stuttgart from the December 2007 timetable change this will be stepped up to four, of which two will continue to München.

To balance the TGV POS sets working deep into Germany, international services between Paris and Frankfurt will be worked by multi-system ICE3MF trainsets. The intention is to run five trains each way from December, but the initial service on this route will be three trains/day, of which two will require a change of train at Saarbrücken.

With the disappearance of loco-hauled inter-city and long-distance services from the existing main lines, the regional governments in Champagne-Ardenne, Lorraine and Alsace have taken the opportunity to strengthen their local TER networks by up to 20%. TER services around Reims are being extended to a new terminal bay at Champagne-Ardenne TGV, where they will connect with the inter-regional trains.

Phase I of LGV Est terminates at Baudrecourt, around 150 km short of Strasbourg, and the TGVs must run for an hour over the the existing sharply-curved route through the Vosges mountains to reach their destination. The planned second stage of the new line would extend from Baudrecourt to the outskirts of Strasbourg, cutting journey times by a further 20 min at an estimated cost of €1·1bn. But although Transport Minister Dominique Perben had announced on several occasions that work on Phase II would begin by 2010 at the latest, SNCF and RFF insiders confirmed last month that no decision has been taken, because the business case does not add up.

  • TGV POS trainset 4407 works the inaugural passenger-carrying special to Strasbourg on May 2
    Photo: Christophe Masse
  • The 52 trainsets dedicated to TGV Est services have been refurbished with new interiors developed by Christian Lacroix and MBD Design
  • Strasbourg station is being extensively remodelled for the launch of TGV Est, including the construction of a second ticket hall and conversion of the former imperial waiting room into a lounge for business travellers. The city is remodelling the main square in front of the station, where a steel and glass canopy will cover a new bus and tram interchange
  • International services between Paris and Frankfurt will be worked by multi-system ICE3MF trainsets equipped with TVM430 cab-signalling. A set stands at Paris Est between driver training runs on May 7
    Photo: Christophe Masse

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