Alstom’s TGV M: SNCF’s weapon to stifle competition leaves the factory

Alstom a effectué la première mise en rame du futur TGV M destiné à la SNCF.

The TGV M begins to take shape. Just over a year after the nose of Alstom’s new high-speed flagship was unveiled in Belfort, the first assembled train left the factory this Friday in La Rochelle. This is yet another milestone for the person who will become the spearhead of SNCF and will complete the “Response” plan aimed at dealing with the arrival of the competition. However, the public rail operator will have to wait another two years and the end of 2024 to be able to start up the operational service of its TGV M.

It is more precisely at the Aytré site, Alstom’s center of excellence for high speed, located a few minutes from La Rochelle, where the event took place, aimed at celebrating the first rowing of a TGV M (meeting of motorized cars and touring cars ) . Under a sky that alternated between sun and rain, the immaculate white train rolled out of the shed with all its headlights on to dynamic music, to reveal its curves to the guests’ floor, gathering local elected officials, managers Alstom and SNCF. ., local and national press. Only the power car and early cars were visible, with no footage, but what was featured was a fully assembled pre-production train.

Avalanche of figures for a strategic contribution

Following each other on the podium, Christophe Fanichet, Executive Director of SNCF Voyageurs, Alain Krakovitch, Director of TGV-Intercités, Jean-Baptiste Eyméoud, President of Alstom France and Bertrand Constensoux, Director of Alstom’s headquarters in Aytré multiplied the figures to highlight the contributions of your new toy: -20% energy consumption, -32% CO2 emissions, 97% recyclable components for the ecological dimension. But also 20% more space (distributed between more space on board and more seats), a modularity that allows varying between 7 and 9 cars per train and playing with the number of cars allocated to first or second class, a maximum capacity of 740 seats compared to the current 634 (in Ouigo configuration) and 5G connectivity for the commercial aspect. Finally, maintenance costs are reduced by 30% with the introduction of predictive maintenance based on the data provided by the train or new automated maintenance banks (BAM).

Enough to make the TGV M the “armed arm” of the SNCF for the development of high speed in France, according to Alain Krakovitch. Or even “the strategic asset of tomorrow” for Christophe Fanichet, who speaks of a “real transformation”, even a “revolution” through the operation of this new train. According to him, it should make it possible to capture the dynamic growth of rail traffic that has begun in recent months, in particular with a record summer for high speed with 10% more passengers compared to 2019.

If it wants to contribute to the development of the railway, the TGV M must also block the passage to Trenitalia’s competition between Paris-Lyon and Italy, and perhaps one day that of the Spanish operator Renfe. “The TGV-M will be the main weapon against the arrival of the competition, with a design and services that the others will not have”, declared Alain Krakovitch last year.

The southeast, Italy and then the rest.

The 115 TGV M currently ordered will arrive at a rate of 12 trains per year between the end of 2024 and 2032. They will be deployed primarily on the Southeast axis, Marseille-Lyon-Paris. That is, the most profitable sector and the most coveted by its foreign competitors. While the two-class configuration (likely with fewer first-class cars than today) will be the most widely used, a high-density Ouigo-type configuration is also planned.

From 2026 it will also enter service to Italy, on the Paris-Milan cross-border line, to compensate for the obsolescence of the current equipment that will not pass that date. Equipped for the European ERTMS signaling system, the TGV M will also be able to run on Italian high-speed lines, unlike current trains.

From then on, trains will gradually be able to enter other axes as needed, but SNCF has not yet communicated any plans. This is also the case for the development of the current fleet of 360 TGVs. A priori, the TGV M will essentially replace the current trains, in particular the last ones with one floor, whose growth is due to their greater capacity in seats.

The train that was worth three billion

If expectations are high, the investment is substantial. Today it is estimated at 3,500 million euros, a significant amount for SNCF as Christophe Fanichet declares: “it is an investment that we made despite our fragile economic situation, and that we have maintained despite the crisis and threats. »

This includes the initial order, placed in 2018, for 100 firm trains for domestic traffic, as well as an additional order for 15 formal trains in August for international service. The original contract also includes options for an additional 100 trains, which could take the total investment beyond €6bn.

Added to this is all the necessary operational preparation within the SNCF to install the maintenance tool, drivers, on-board staff and technicians, or even adapt the stations to the additional 2.6 meters per train during the incorporation of a ninth car (whose size is partly offset by less powerful cars). This latest project, mainly signaling, has already started at 70 stations on the Southeast axis.

As for Alstom, Jean-Baptiste Eyméoud mentions an investment of €50 million for the Aytré site alone. But with such an order, you are assured of activity for 10 years, or even until 2040 if all options are exercised.

Place for the test

Passing this symbolic stage of rowing should now put the TGV M on its way to dynamic testing in a few weeks, which will take place at Velim in the Czech Republic. He will then be able to run at speeds of 200 km/h, before returning to France to continue his development. Three pre-series trains will participate in the tests.

At the same time, the fine-tuning of the on-board elements will continue. Among the projects in progress, the SNCF mentions the completion of the seats (with tests on a representative sample of people), the development of the car dedicated to people in wheelchairs -which should allow for the first time a completely autonomous access- or that of the bar car described as “the flagship of this TGV” by Alain Krakovitch.