Traveling through Europe at 200 MPH

Written by ryan. Posted in Uncategorized


Published on October 06, 2010 with No Comments

By W. Dennis Hodges

Parents on a driving trip with their children will often get the question, “Are we there yet?” Depending on their mood or perspective, the question can either be very annoying or quite humorous.

When it comes to the development of 21st century infrastructure and transportation in America, the same question has relevance. But depending on the perspective of those who hear it, it can be annoying, or it can be inspiring.

Europe appears to be there. They are clearly in the 21st century and gradually advancing faster and moving forward for generations to come. Its landscape from Great Britain, France, Germany and Austria to Scandinavia, Switzerland and Spain is saturated with infrastructure of sound and contemporary design that carries a passenger rail system rivaling anything in the United States.
Over the course of 25 days, I took advantage of invitations from three companies that clearly are ahead of the field in transportation creativity and innovation – Alstom of France, Talgo of Spain and Siemens of Germany and Austria – to tour their manufacturing facilities. I was also invited by the SwissRail Association to experience a passenger rail system in Switzerland that proved to run just like a Swiss watch.

I also met with representatives of DB – the German Railway System, SBB – the Swiss Railway System and visited the SNCF – French Railway System Command Center in Paris. I toured the Siemens Test Center, where I was privileged to actually drive a powerful passenger train. For doing so, the director gave me a certificate of completion, and I now think I am ready to engineer a high speed train in America … or, maybe not.

Throughout my tour, I rode on some 33 high speed trains across Europe; seven of which where with the engineer in the cab of those trains. What a thrilling experience that was.
Traveling at 200 mph in a Siemens Velaro, Talgo 350, or a brand new 125 mph Bombardier EMU going through the tunnels at the center of the Swiss Alps, gave me a completely new perspective on 21st century passenger rail travel.

What power! What fantastic scenery!

For the latter, the SwissRail Association provided me with an amazing tour of central Switzerland that had me on four trains traveling from Zurich to Interlocken to Bern and then on to Basel where I caught the TGV back to Paris. I also took a tour of the beautiful Rhine River Valley in Germany.
Seeing the trains designed, being pieced together from materials supplied by scores of suppliers, then manufactured and sent off to customers all over the world was a most impressive site. While on location, I saw Alstom equipment headed off to Northern Africa, Siemens equipment off to Northern Europe and Talgo equipment being readied for a massive expansion of Spain’s rail system.
Over the next 10 to 20 years, France and Germany hope to at least double the mileage of its high-speed rail system, and Spain looks to catch up by expanding its system four times of what it is today.


It looks like the craftsman and engineers at Alstom, Siemens and Talgo will be busy for another generation to come. That should improve the economic condition of these nations immensely.
While in Madrid, which enjoys an absolutely amazing Metro system, it truly is a more traveler-friendly urban underground than the Paris Metro, which virtually has no elevators or escalators. I also saw the site of a 12 mile high-speed rail tunnel that is to be completed in about five years.
Since this was my first time visiting that city, I did not know Madrid is situated on a rather elevated plateau, and that immense height is why Spain can take on such an aggressive project.
Seeing all these greatly-advanced manufacturing facilities also made me keenly aware that a proposed high-speed rail system in the United States should not be viewed as a “ma and pa, maybe it will happen someday” operation. This is a very serious business that could add hundreds of billions of dollars to America’s economy, which of course, includes us residents of Northwest Indiana.

Craftsman at work; suppliers producing all sorts of equipment; technicians abounding and modern; 21st century infrastructures being built everywhere, and just think about it, every conceivable trade will benefit. Steel, aluminum, concrete, plastic – you name it.
It is all to become a part of an integrated high-speed rail system in Indiana and the Midwest, and not at the expense of highways and airports.

Are we there yet? A huge chunk of Europe is already there, and Indiana, given the right motivation and political will, could soon catch up and maintain pace. The tour convincingly proved to me that high-speed trains are not just an answer, but are among the more critical answers that this country can find for its many economic questions.

This is a product and system that could clearly lead to the further creativity and innovation so needed in Indiana. It is a system that definitely has economic and business development written all over it.

That means jobs, jobs, jobs for generations to come. It is a transportation product that also means quality of life amenities and high-tech education, and a system that will significantly bring this great nation deep into the heart of the 21st century.

Are we there yet? Let us come home to re-start the engines of our great American manufacturing plants here in Northwest Indiana, and get them producing this most amazing transportation equipment now. Future generations are waiting for us to do so.

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