Fastest train ever built undergoing trials in Czech Republic

Photo: Tomáš Reiner,

The world’s fastest train is currently undergoing trials here in the Czech Republic. The AGV has been developed in France, but testing the train out there would cause too much disruption to French timetables, so its producers are making use of a short track near Prague while they iron out any problems and show the train off to potential customers.

Developed by the French company Alstom, the AGV is the fastest train in the world, setting a record last year of 574.8 kilometres an hour. Before it can go on the market, however, it has to undergo extensive trials, and the venue chosen for those is a 13-kilometre section of track at Velim, east of Prague. Thierry Yonnet, the man overseeing the trials, explains why the very-high-speed train is being tested here:

“There are three usable tracks in Europe. One in France, one in Germany and one here. The French one is too small and we can’t go fast. In Germany you can go a bit faster but the track belongs to our main competitor, so we are trying to avoid it... In the Czech Republic, all the conditions for our trials are met, with a speed of 200 km/h on a big enough track, so the choice was obvious.”

The line at Velim may be suitable for trials but it’s not actually a very-high-speed track. So why don’t its makers test out the AGV at home, on the French rail network? Thierry Yonnet:

“We have a choice: we can test it on commercial railways in France, but that causes major disruptions to the commercial network. So the best solution is to test it on a track. And today in Europe, the only track which allows a speed of 200 km/h is here in Velim, in the Czech Republic.”

Over a four-month period, the prototype is undergoing a comprehensive series of tests. Sitting in the laboratory car situated in the middle of the AGV, engineer Gilles Picot says things are looking good, but the data being gathered in Velim still needs to be analysed at its makers’ HQ in France:

“We are now testing the emergency braking, to check if it stops according to our calculations. So far the results have been OK, but they still need to be analyzed by the French teams in La Rochelle. The track is limited to 200 kilometres an hour, so we’ll then have to do some high-speed tests in France. The train is made for a top speed of 360 kilometres an hour.”

But while the engineers putting the AGV through its paces are French, the actual driver is Czech. His name is Martin Plachý:

“It is really different compared to the trains I am used to driving. With this one I drive at 200 km/h – people here can hardly believe it.”

Trials of the world’s fastest locomotive – which Alstom are hoping will offer a competitive alternative to air travel – are set to last until September. A number of would-be buyers have already been to the Czech Republic to see the AGV for themselves, including an Italian company who bought the first 25 trains. They should go into service in three years’ time.