TGV, ICE, AVE, Frecce: high-speed trains in Europe

On September 22, 1981, the first TGV line was inaugurated between Paris and Lyon. France was then a pioneer in Europe. Forty years later, competition is fierce between Germany, Spain, Italy and France, having developed their own high-speed trains.

France: the TGV

  • The “high-speed train” project was initiated in the 1970s. The inauguration of the first line, connecting Paris and Lyon, dates from September 22, 1981. Since then, the high-speed network has continued to grow. Today it covers 2,700 kilometers, making it the fourth network, after China, Spain and Japan.
  • TGV trains serve more than 230 destinations, mainly in France, but also in neighboring countries (Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Great Britain).
  • The attendance soared from one year to the next: 7.2 million travelers in 1982, 20.1 million in 1991, 40.8 million in 2012 and 110 million in 2019.
  • The TGV, the favorite train of the SNCF, has improved its performance. It drives today at 320 km / h on average, against 260 km / h in 1981.

Spain: AVE

  • The first “high speed” line (AVE, acronym for “Alta Velocidad Española”, “Spanish high speed”) in Spain was inaugurated in April 1992. It links Madrid and Seville.
  • It was especially in the 2000s that the Spanish network developed, mainly in star from the capital Madrid. Today it covers more than 3,400 kilometers, making it the longest network in Europe.

Germany: ECI

  • High-speed train projects in Germany date back to the 1980s. They lead to the opening of a first line between Hamburg and Munich via Hanover, Frankfurt and Stuttgart. The commissioning of the ICE (“InterCity Express”) dates from June 2, 1991.
  • ICE high-speed trains depend on the Deutsche Bahn railway group. Today they connect the main cities of Germany, but also those of neighboring countries (Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Austria). The network extends over more than 1,500 km.
  • The ICE quickly found its audience. Attendance increased from 5 million passengers in 1991 to 67 million in 2005, reaching 100 million in 2019.
  • The distances being quite short between the German cities, the speed of the ICE is less relatively lower (maximum: 280 km / h).

Italy: the Frecce and Italo Treno

  • It was in Italy that the first high-speed line in Europe was built, between Rome and Florence. It was put into service in February 1977. It could accommodate a new generation of trains capable of reaching 250 km / h. Today, the high-speed network stretches for approximately 900 kilometers.
  • In Italy, two operators share the high-speed train market. First there is the company Trenitalia, a wholly owned subsidiary of the state group FS – Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane. It operates three types of trains “Le Frecce” (“the arrow”) called Frecciarossa (FR), Frecciargento (FA) and Frecciabianco (FB). The other operator is private: New Passenger Transport (NTV, “new passenger transport”). His high-speed train is called Italo Train.

  • These trains cover most of Italy and connect in particular the cities of Rome, Milan, Venice and Naples. But the two operators took advantage of the liberalization of the market to advance their pawns (and their train sets), particularly in France.


In recent years, technological progress has favored rail interoperability, in other words, the possibility of running trains on different rail networks, in particular from one state to another.

Added to this is the liberalization of the rail sector, which began 20 years ago. Concretely, this means that high-speed lines can be operated by several different operators. Enough to whet the appetites of the main players in the sector …

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