TGV leaves Airbus woe a distant memory

France's engineers regained some of their swagger on Tuesday when a customised TGV smashed the world speed record for conventional trains, temporarily banishing thoughts of Airbus's troubles.

Following the route of a new high-speed line that will accelerate the journey time between Paris and cities in eastern France, Germany, Switzerland and Luxembourg, the Alstom-made train clocked in at 574.8 kph, topping the old mark of 515.3 kph, which had been set in 1990 by a previous TGV.

France's pride in its engineering sector had been dented by the difficulties facing Airbus, the civil aircraft maker, which is shedding thousands of staff in France after delays to its A380 superjumbo highlighted weaknesses in its multinational structure.

The imminent presidential election meant that ministers and candidates were barred from the site of Tuesday's rail triumph for fear of influencing the campaign, leaving French politicians to applaud from afar.

Jacques Chirac, who is coming to the end of his second and final term as president, saluted "new proof of French railway industry excellence".

France cannot lay claim to owning the fastest train on earth, however. That title belongs to a Japanese magnetic levitation (maglev) train that went as fast as 581 kph in 2003.

The new TGV Est service, which begins in June, will cut the time from Paris to Frankfurt to 3 hours and 45 minutes, compared with 6 hours and 15 minutes today.

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