Chronology of the Record Runs
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First campaign: November 1989 - February 1990
Thursday, 30 November 1989
First day of testing. At 7:29, trainset 325 leaves the Châtillon shops behind trainset 308. 325 could not be driven to the test site under its own power, because the 1500 V DC systems had been removed, and several stretches of tracks between Paris and Massy are electrified in 1500 V. Arrival at Massy at 7:49. After testing hot box detectors and the electrical systems, 325 is uncoupled from 308 at 8:21 and leaves Massy. At 8:52, 325 passes the siding at Dangeau, at kilometer 114, and enters the test tracks. Weather conditions are radioed to the crew: temperature, -7C (19F). Rail temperature, -6C (21F). Wind, east, 3 km/h (2 mph). Visibility, 500 m (1500 ft). A deer on the tracks delays the first run, and a team is called in to put it to sleep. The second run of the day begins at 12:03, and 325 achieves 391 km/h (243 mph) at kilometer 169, stopping at 12:24 at kilometer 210, the end of the test tracks. Upon returning to Dangeau at low speed, 325 launches into its third run, and hits 407 km/h (253 mph) at kilometer 142.
Friday, 1 December 1989
Weather conditions give trouble, with frost on the catenary. On the first run of the day, video monitors show intense sparking between the pantograph and wire. Testing is interrupted and the catenary grounded while technicians climb on the roof of unit 24050 to inspect the pantograph. The pantograph is adjusted to make firmer contact with the wire, and subsequent runs encounter no trouble. On the third and last run of the day, 325 achieves a speed of 442.6 km/h (275 mph) at kilometer 164.3.
Monday, 4 December 1989
Trainset 308 carries out the usual morning sweep of the test tracks, and reports frost on some sections of catenary, and poor traction at the rail. In spite of slight slippage, 325 hits 463 km/h (288 mph) on its first run, at kilometer 165. Second run, 473 km/h (294 mph). The third run tops out at only 463 km/h (288 mph), due to the main circuit breaker tripping twice. That evening, the decision is made to increase the mechanical tension in the catenary to 2800 daN (6300 lbf) from 2700 daN (6100 lbf) in the faster sections of the test tracks. (The normal tension in the catenary is 2000 daN, or 4500 lbf).
Tuesday, 5 December 1989
The day begins in very cold weather, with a first run at 474.5 km/h (295 mph). 325 returns to the Dangeau siding, and waits for clearance to proceed on the next run. At 11:07, trainset 308 radios that the test tracks are clear, after a sweep at 350 km/h (218 mph). Test director Pierre Delfosse expresses his hope that the next run will be a good one. 325 leaves Dangeau at 11:36 and begins accelerating. Kilometer 124.1, 300 km/h (186 mph). Kilometer 129, 350 km/h (218 mph). The junction switches at Courtalain are passed at 363 km/h (226 mph) without a jolt. Kilometer 149.5, 450 km/h (280 mph). Kilometer 154.8, 460 km/h (286 mph). Kilometer 163.9, 470 km/h (292 mph). Kilometer 166, 480 km/h (298 mph). 600 meters further, at 11:37, the new world record is established, at 482.4 km/h (299.8 mph). At kilometer 169, engineer Michel Boiteau is told to reduce power to zero. The figures for the run are tallied up. From a standing start:
6'15" and 22 km (14 mi) to 400 km/h (249 mph)
8' and 33 km (21 mi) to 440 km/h (273 mph)
9' and 40 km (25 mi) to 460 km/h (286 mph)
At the end of this run, trainset 325 has racked up 337 km (209 mi) at speeds exceeding 400 km/h (249 mph). News footage of the record run is beamed around the world.
6 December 1989 to 29 January 1990
The test runs continue. 325 is called upon to pump out 13 MW (18,000 hp) at the rail, about the same power as a pair of stock TGV-Atlantique trainsets. With trainset 308, 325 undergoes testing of crossings, achieving a relative closing velocity of 777.7 km/h (483 mph). All the test runs go without a hitch, and the conservative safety parameters set at the beginning are never exceeded. The test data from the December 5 record indicates that the limit of the TGV system has not yet been reached. In light of this, it is decided to attempt a second round of testing, to tackle speeds in the 500 km/h (311 mph) range. The test team has to work fast, because the test tracks are scheduled to begin revenue use in September 1990.
Monday, 29 January 1990
For the first time, high-speed runs are attempted on track 2. Running the "wrong" way (on the right-hand track) trainset 325 crosses the leading-point switches in the Vendôme station at 462 km/h (287 mph).
Thursday, 1 February 1990
Last run for this first series of tests. At 15:30, 325 returns to the Châtillon shops. It will stay there for a month, undergoing further upgrades for the second series of tests.
Second campaign: March - May 1990
Monday, 5 March 1990
First run of trainset 325, version 2, at 408 km/h (254 mph). Upon returning to the Dangeau siding, the crew changes cabins for the second run. When the trainset is powered up again, an electrical malfunction destroys the main transformer in rear unit 24050. This ends the day of testing, and 325 is towed back to the Châtillon shops behind trainset 308. The same evening, the damaged transformer is changed out and replaced by a standard, smaller transformer. Technicians spend all night repairing the electrical system on 24050. Many 1500 V and 72 V circuits had been seriously damaged by 25 kV in the malfunction.
Tuesday, 6 March 1990
After many slow runs on the shop tracks to fine-tune the new transformer, 325 heads out once more to the test tracks at 10:05. It never makes it; at Saint-Léger, it breaks down once more, and is towed back to Châtillon by 308.
Friday, 9 March 1990
At 6:30, technicians are still busy changing out a traction motor and low voltage electronics. More time is needed to get 325 back into shape. At 19:00, news arrives that SNCF has decided to delay further testing until unit 24050 has its stock transformer replaced with the refurbished transformer from the March 5 incident. With the current smaller transformer, it is doubtful that 325 can generate enough power to tackle 500 km/h (311 mph).
Friday, 4 May 1990
325 is out on the test tracks again, on its second day. The December 5 record is beat, with a top speed of over 485 km/h (301 mph). The 500 km/h mark seems within reach.
Wednesday, 9 May 1990
A deer on the test tracks delays the first run of the day by over an hour. On the third run, begun at Dangeau at 14:38, 325 makes history and breaks the 500 km/h (311 mph) mark, at kilometer 164.8. At 14:49, 325 reaches a top speed of 506.5 km/h (315 mph), at kilometer 165.9. During this run, over 3 km (2 mi) are covered at speeds above 500 km/h. The fourth run begins with the usual weather condition update. Courtalain: temperature 23C (73F), rail temperature 32C (90F). Kilometer 166: temperature 24C (75F), contact wire temperature 25C (77F), wind, west, 10 km/h (6 mph). The run proceeds as follows:
Kilometer 124.4, 300 km/h (186 mph)
Kilometer 130.1, 360 km/h (224 mph)
Kilometer 137.0, 400 km/h (249 mph)
Kilometer 146.6, 450 km/h (280 mph)
Kilometer 153.0, 480 km/h (298 mph)
Kilometer 156.6, 490 km/h (305 mph)
Kilometer 162.0, 500 km/h (311 mph)
At 16:43, after another few seconds, the numbers flash across the screens: 510.6 km/h (317.3 mph). This run is remarkable in that this speed was attained without making use of the hill at kilometer 166. The switches in the Vendôme station were passed at 502 km/h (312 mph).
Thursday, 10 May 1990
Flawless first run at 509.9 km/h (317 mph). Second run, not so good. Third run, problem. While running at 300 km/h (186 mph), the pantograph wiper begins to skip on the contact wire. 325 returns to Dangeau at reduced speed, and the catenary is grounded so that technicians can inspect the pantograph. It is suspected that an accelerometer wire interfered with the wiper; the wire is replaced. Fourth run, the wiper again begins to skip on the contact wire. Upon return to Dangeau, the shock absorber on the pantograph is replaced. Fifth run, same phenomenon, at 339 km/h (211 mph). Testing is stopped for the day.
Friday, 11 May 1990
SNCF announces an interruption of the test program, because of a "minor problem" with the pantograph/contact wire interface. After a thorough evaluation of the pantograph, 325 continues test runs despite the bad news, and makes runs at 505 km/h (314 mph) and 508.9 km/h (316 mph).
Monday, 14 May 1990
Delicate tweaking of trainset 325, intended to optimize tractive effort at very high speeds, result in electrical problems. Technicians settle for less ambitious settings to avoid these problems.
Wednesday, 16 May 1990
A first run tops out at 505.8 km/h (314.4 mph) at kilometer 166.2. Jacques Fournier, president of SNCF and present on 325 today, congratulates the test crew for a new run over 500. Second run: 506 km/h (314 mph). Third run: 510.8 km/h (317.5 mph) at kilometer 166.8. These last two runs are flawless, with none of the electrical problems encountered earlier.
Thursday, 17 May 1990
A day of rest for the crew. 325 stays at her home base, the Châtillon shops.
Friday, 18 May 1990
The planned last day of testing. At dawn, 308 backs against 325, and the Scharfenbergs engage. 325 is towed out to the test tracks, with the usual stop at Massy to pick up the technical crew. The equipment trailer R1 has been converted into a studio, since today's runs are planned as a media event. Trailer R10 will be filled with journalists. At 8:08, 308 and 325 arrive at Dangeau and uncouple. Trainset 313 pulls up behind them, and allows France's minister of transport, Michel Delebarre, to board the cab of 325. Trainset 313 proceeds to the Vendôme station with a load of SNCF executives, headed by president Jacques Fournier, and miscellaneous invited dignitaries. At 8:43, a deer is reported on the test tracks. After a short delay for removal of the deer, 325 pulls out of the Dangeau siding at 9:51. Catenary voltage has been increased to 29.5 kV from 25 kV. 15 minutes later, at 10:06, 325 pegs the new world speed record at 515.3 km/h (320.3 mph) at the bottom of the hill at kilometer 166.8. The train comes to a stop a few minutes later at kilometer 210, and the crew and minister celebrate with champagne. Soon after, 325 returns to track 4 of the Vendôme station with lights blazing and horn blowing, and is greeted by hordes of journalists.
Pictures from La Vie du Rail
Click on the pictures to make them bigger
Picture 1: 325 seen from the overpass at the top of the hill, launching down towards kilometer 166. This was taken a few seconds before the record was set. The bright reflections on the roof of 24050 are caused by the sparking.
Picture 2: 325 a little bit past the Loir bridge, a few hundred meters after setting the record.
Picture 3: 325 on a different high speed run, crossing the Loir bridge
Picture 4: The speed diagram for the record run, autographed by Michel Delebarre.
Picture 5: Inside the cab in 24049, during the record run: Daniel Vigneau, chief of traction at Nantes; Claude Maro, traction inspector; Michel Massinon, engineer.
Picture 6: A view from the rear cab, during another run. A GEC Alsthom technician monitors performance.
Picture 7: The catenary is grounded for an inspection of the pantograph.
Picture 8: Gérard Auditeau, Guy Saint-Requier and François Lacôte (Chief engineer of the TGV program), taking a look at the pantograph after a high speed run.
Picture 9: A view from the rear cab, moments after passing over the switches in the Vendôme station at high speed.
Picture 10: Trainset 308 doing a sweep of the line at 350 km/h (218 mph) before one of 325's high speed runs. Cut in just in front of the rear unit is Mélusine, a TGV-compatible measuring car.
Picture 11: The rear spoiler being installed on 24050 at Dangeau, in preparation for another high speed run. The spoiler was removed after each high speed run because it could not withstand facing into the wind for the return trip to Dangeau.
Picture 12: Inside view of trailer R1, showing the lab equipment. Suggestion for further investigation: Does high speed cause hair loss?
Photo Credits: Picture 1, Witt/SIPA-PRESS; Picture 2, Bouvet-Stevens-Landmn-vsd/GAMMA; Picture 3, C. Besnard/LVDR; Pictures 5, 6, 7, 8, 11, and 12, C. Recoura/LVDR; Picture 9, C. Barberon/LVDR; Picture 10, G. Jacobs/LVDR.