ONE organisation seemed determined not to be impressed by the French speed record of 574·8 km/h attained by the V150 trainset on April 3. Not only that, but it actively set out to discredit the achievement in the UK media.

The following briefing note was sent out to British journalists by the Network Rail press office with 'a bit of engineering insider knowledge to colour your piece':

'SNCF have just set a new world speed record for rail at 578 kph [sic] - using a short set TGV and running on the newly-built TGV Est.

To do this, the system had many modifications, the train big wheels, stiffened suspension, changed gearing, aerodynamic treatment of the underside etc infrastructure track geometry has been specially aligned, increased power to the normal 25kv [sic] overheads to 28.5 kV, and 40 tonne [sic] tension in the OHLE. There were interesting pictures from the pantograph (lots of arcing), the wheel/rail interface (very stable), from front and rear of the train, (huge amount of ballast pick up).

SNCF have been working on the special criteria and setting this up for 2 plus years. There is now a contract to repair everything, particularly to replace all the contact wire on the line before service operation in June - millions of euro - a pretty expensive job all round!'

Regrettably we have not managed to trace evidence of the contracts let to repair the wrecked contact wire after each of the six previous runs that exceeded 550 km/h...