High Speed Rail in France: Le TGV — C’est Cool.

Since 1981, France has had a true high speed rail service, the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse).  We here in the US are only about 30 years behind the French in the regard…and counting.  As US politicians continue to dither on high speed passenger rail, throwing loose change at development, the French corporations like Alstom have perfected this product for export to its former colonies in the developing world making big profits.  Since the US is on par with developing world rail infrastructure, we may be best served by swallowing our pride and purchasing this technology from French post haste.

The TGV’s maiden voyage was between Paris and Lyon on September 27th, 1981.  Ridership is expected to hit the 2 billion mark in 2010.  It is a smashing commercial success, but goes further than that as a symbol on national pride and technological prowess.  It is a cornerstone of European integration as it connects France to the UK and her continental neighbors with speed and dependability.  Let us parse out the credit for this success to everyone, but one small group of people deserves a mention: the riche.

The fundamental difference between the French and the Americans is that rich French people are taxed much more than wealthy Americans (which leaves them more money to spend on holiday…in France).  This is why Republicans hate, hate, hate the French.  French-bashing was a fervent national pastime from about 2002-2005 in the fair and balanced American media.  Our mainstream media was very inclined to fan anti-French sentiment, because if Americans learned that the French government taxes the rich to strengthen civil society, there’s a small chance it could happen here.  It will never happen though.  The wealthiest Americans not only sidestep being taxed, but coerce the government to pay their bonuses if their businesses don’t pan out.

Be it the George W. Bushes of yesteryear or the GOP economic maestros of today (we’re looking at you Sarah Palin), the almighty tax cut is the cornerstone of any economic policy espoused by the conservative protectors of the rich, be they Republicans or faux-Libertarians.  The infrastructure of the rest of the country can crumble as long as the residents of our nation’s well manicured gated communities can get that 9th Bentley to add to their collection (we’re looking at you Nicholas Cage).  Rich Germans volunteer to pay more taxes to lift up their country while rich Americans play hide-and-seek with the taxman to keep their dough.

In the last post the word that encapsulated Germany’s high speed rail network was solidarity.  When your country is shattered, you all pull together to rebuild.  In France, the word that built the world’s fastest train is wealth.  As previously stated, the rich are viewed very differently in America and France.  American society is all about wealth and flashing cash is the pinnacle of what we are supposed to perceive as cool.  In France such “nouveau riche” behavior is considered classless and crass.  It was quite a revelation to learn that, as one French national told me, “In France, it’s not really okay to be rich.”

[photo credit: RailEurope]

Have any Question or Comment?

6 comments on “High Speed Rail in France: Le TGV — C’est Cool.

Of rail and realpolitik. http://bit.ly/7SCcwS

This comment was originally posted on Twitter

Ira Wallis

Dear Alex Lennartz,

Your views are so childish that it beggars the mind as to whether you would be capable of understanding reality or even basic economics.

Son! the taxes paid in the USA by the wealthiest are such that they allow people like you to enjoy the life style even though you don’t understand the first things about value.

Koji Ueyama

I live in Japan. And I often use Shinkansen. As well you know, railway transportation is accurate and tough climate status.

(Japanese domestic airline often “Cancel” by fog or strong wind)

Of course, TGV & Shinkanse achieve low carbon solution already.

Status Nouveau

Dear Ira Wallis,

I get the impression that you feel strongly about economics and taxation in America. The fact that you read this post suggests that you are also interested in environmental issues. I am curious to hear your opinion as to how the American beaureaucracy, as it currently exists, might best address the issue of ailing rail infrastructure and long-distance mass transit in general. The evidence suggests to me that the currently-prevailing air-based system may not be feasible beyond the medium term. The economic and ecological feasibility studies I’ve seen generally find in favour of high-speed rail systems, so it seems to me that the Europeans and Japanese are indeed far ahead of the Americans, Canadians, Australians, etc, in this regard. Should the latter nations try to play catch up or do you see a better alternative?


Dear Alex Lennartz,

Thank you for a very thought-provoking write-up about the dire state of affairs regarding passenger rail service in this country. However, there are a number of issues I’d like to bring to mind: 1)It was the Japanese who first brought the Shinkansen high speed rail service into commercial use–17 years prior to the TGV. 2)Both Democratic(Carter-Clinton)and Republican administrations(Nixon- Bush), as well as the Federal Railroad Administration and Congress all played a major role in underfunding and undermining passenger rail development since the creation of Amtrak in 1971. 3)Unlike North Americans, Asians and Europeans are not shy about planning, constructing and financing major rail infrastructure projects as a demonstration of national pride and solidarity. 4)We as North Americans need to get over ourselves and seriously start upgrading and financing future rail projects instead of squandering what’s left of our national GDP on granting corporate welfare to undeserving banks, car manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms, private insurance companies, foreign governments, etc. 5)Finally, we need to integrate our existing rail infrastructure with airports, seaports and interstate highway systems.

I think this is brilliant, I’m a huge supporter of the high speed rail. I travel to France a lot on business and usually stay at a hotel in Ebbsfleet before transferring over to Paris via euro trains, so I really do feel this will open up European connections and encourage integration.


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