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AGV in need of a customer

01 Jul 2002

HAVING completed its task in May, Alstom's Elisa test train formed of two experimental AGV cars married to part of a TGV Réseau set is being dismantled while the results are analysed. AGV stands for Automotrice à Grande Vitesse, and Project Director Georges Palais told us on the final trip from Lille to Calais in May that the next stage is construction of a prototype trainset to demonstrate the advantages of distributed power for less-busy high speed routes, where the operation of double-deck TGV Duplex cannot be justified.

Alstom Transport Senior Vice-President François Lacôte stressed that AGV was a long-term project, and 'high speed still has a long way to go in Europe - we are only at the beginning.' The company's view, he said, is that TGV Duplex and AGV were the two 'platforms' that it can offer a market that will continue to develop for many years. While Duplex can be upgraded from 300 to 320 km/h, it is now AGV that offers the prospect of 350 km/h in the future.

The case for a fully articulated train of 7 to 12 cars with 50% to 62% of axles motored was presented by Lacôte and Palais in RG 11.01 (p51). A weakness, perhaps, in European terms is the inability to accommodate a transformer that can handle 16 2/3 Hz current at 15 kV because of the higher weight, limiting AGV's operation to 25 kV 50Hz and DC voltages. TGV Est, now under construction, will prompt SNCF's next high speed order, and this is a route where the principal destinations such as Metz, Nancy and Luxembourg are dispersed off the trunk route - but through operation to Frankfurt is also planned.

A difficulty for Alstom is that the company is financially stretched, and so far it has funded AGV development unaided, having to pay RFF and SNCF for the Elisa test runs. Palais put the cost of an AGV prototype at €10m, which seems a modest estimate even with two cars already available. But can the company carry that risk alone? SNCF its putting its money into Duplex trainsets, and TGV Est might well end up with cascaded single-deck trains, except for the Frankfurt service.

Palais is confident that distributed power using the AGV platform is the way forward. 'I don't know when, but I am sure it will be built within 10 or 20 years', he assured us. Back in the 1980s it was simple: SNCF and Alsthom were effectively partners in a continuous process of TGV development. Now, with strict rules on competitive bidding and state aid to industry, things are different.