France's fast train to try to break speed record

One of France's famed fast trains will try to break the world speed record on rails Tuesday, officials said.

The train, made up of three double-decker cars between two engines, will whiz down a stretch of a new line linking Paris to eastern France, starting the journey from the French capital. It will try to break the 1990 rail record, also held by a French train, of 515.3 kph (320.2 mph).

That should not be too hard since the specially designed train has been outfitted to reach at least 540 kph (335.5 mph) - about the speed of a short-distance freight propeller plane.

The TGV, short for "train de grande vitesse," as France's bullet trains are called, has been equipped with larger wheels than the usual TGV to cover more ground with each rotation and a stronger, 25,000 horsepower engine, said Alain Cuccaroni, in charge of the technical aspects of testing.

Adjustments also have been made to the new track, which opens June 10, notably the banking on turns. Rails were also treated for perfect contact, Cuccaroni said. The electrical tension in the overhead cable was beefed up, from 25,000 volts to 31,000.

The double-decker cars were transformed into a laboratory for the event so that technicians from the state-run rail company SNCF and Alstom, which makes the fast trains, can gather data during the run.

The goal of the operation, called V150, is more than "simply breaking a record," Cuccaroni said. Data from the test should help improve the security and comfort of passengers in the future, he said.

Japan holds the absolute speed record for a train, with its magnetically levitated Maglev train that skims over a guideway on powerful magnetic fields without ever touching the track. The Maglev set a record of 581 kph (361 mph) in 2003.

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Author`s name Angela Antonova