JUICED. If you want to go fast on rails, go electric. The French have set a new rail speed record (via Best of the Web) with a specially equipped TGV train.

(AP Photo from the Indianapolis Star.)

You don't just switch a random consist out of the coach yard and turn it loose. There's this little thing called back electromotive force to overcome, which more voltage will do.
For its mission to break the speed record, the train was modified with a 25,000-horsepower engine, and adjustments also were made to the track, notably the banking on turns. The rails were treated so the wheels could make perfect contact, and electrical power in the overhead cable was increased from 25,000 volts to 31,000 volts.

The V150 was equipped with larger wheels than the normal French TGV - or "train a grande vitesse" - to cover more ground with each rotation, said Alain Cuccaroni, in charge of the technical aspects of testing. French TGVs normally cruise at about 185 mph.
I wonder if somebody in France learned about the field shunt tests (another way of overcoming that back electromotive force) with the Electroliner in which a train got up to 111 mph on jointed rail at nominal line voltage collected through a trolley pole. After the test, master mechanic Henry Cordell (what's French for who vas th' motorman?) had the field shunts disconnected: the train was too fast for the road crossing protection, and the relatively small wheels were turning too fast in Mr Cordell's judgement. (The bigger wheels squeeze more velocity out of the same motors: there is this phenomenon called "balance speed" at which additional power is exactly offset by additional back electromotive force and the motors spin no faster, but if the motors are spinning bigger wheels, the train goes faster, provided the added rotating mass isn't a burden.)

Despite improvements in train technology, some things don't change.
Outside, the train roared by like a jet, sparks spit from the overhead power lines and a trail of dust sprayed out behind.
On the Chicagoland interurbans, that's often a trail of snow. But I like this Electroliner image from a book I just received, Chicago North Shore & Milwaukee: Point of No Return (not enough text for a book review.) Also check out Streetcars and Electroburgers by the same author.

The book also mentions the late Lew Burdette. It's a sobering thought, Cub fans, that two different Milwaukee teams have lost the World Series since the Cubs last played in one. Look closely at the picture: those are the National League and American League standings on the flag hoists. None of this divisional stuff: one league, one pennant race, one World Series, and North Shore Line liberty specials to Great Lakes. Back to the speed record ...

It's still obligatory to have the fourth estate chasing trains with aircraft.
Then, near the village of Le Chemin, we hit the record of 357.2 mph. The train was speeding far faster than a passenger jet taking off. In fact, we kept up with planes flying overhead taking photos.
That used to be easier.

The context for the picture appears in an essay about the Cincinnati and Lake Erie interurban line that was part of the 2001 Interurban Symposium.

It is time to hoist a Sprecher Doppel Bock in tribute to the French speed record, and to Middle America's traction pioneers who started the tradition of fast running, electrically.

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