THIS MONTH should see Alstom and French National Railways conclude a programme of trials with a TGV modified to demonstrate that ride comfort can be significantly improved in the 300 to 350 km/h speed range. Four cars of a TGV Réseau set have been fitted with a form of active suspension designed to reduce lateral accelerations. An actuator integrated in the bogie moves the body in response to signals from a sensing device. The train began tests on the Lille - Calais section of TGV Nord Europe in March, and Alstom is confident it will show that high standards of ride can be achieved at 350 km/h.

Development of active suspension for TGVs is one element in a research programme which sees Alstom spending 60m euros a year. The company has developed a vision of rail travel 10 years from now, and it is already clear that there will be some fundamental changes in technical strategy. Construction of the proposed TGV Nouvelle Génération power car is, according to the newly-appointed President of Alstom Transport Michel Moreau, ’on hold’, and in its place the company is designing a 360 km/h TGV with distributed power.

Active suspension is one of nine areas that Alstom has picked for development. Others include cutting the mass and volume of traction equipment to one-quarter of today’s values, freeing space for 20 more seats in a double-deck EMU power car. This would harness IGBT traction control equipment, permanent magnet traction motors and high frequency transformers. The company believes there is potential for fuel cell technology to replace diesel engines, and laboratory tests are in hand.

Alstom also anticipates wider use of steerable single axles as fitted to the wide-bodied København S-bane trains; the first of 112 series-built units was to be handed to Danish State Railways after completion at Salzgitter in Germany on June 25.

Among other developments anticipated within the next 10 years are bodyshells and bogie frames from composite materials, contributing to a major reduction in train weight and hence energy use. Reducing noise is another objective, and work is under way with universities to try and cut interior noise levels.

Perhaps more unlikely is the ’open metro’ concept that envisages vehicles with whole sections of the sides forming giant doors that lift up to allow rapid boarding. Transmission-based train control is to be further developed, while sophisticated electronics will allow the use of smart tickets interfacing with on-train information equipment. The company said that this would welcome passengers as they join their train - or inform them if they attempted to board the wrong one.