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Friday 10 April 2009

Kings of the Talgo

Spelling mistake it is not. Since the 1950s, many of the Spanish rail network’s premier passenger services have been provided using products of Patentes Talgo. At first, these light and articulated trains were designed for good speeds on less than ideally maintained track. The low centre of gravity also helped.

Later, Talgo developed variable gauge axles. So what? Well, the network in Spain and Portugal uses a wider gauge than that elsewhere in western Europe. So changing trains at the French border, or waiting while coaches were jacked up for bogies to be changed, was the norm. The new technology meant that trains could run between Spain and France, merely by going through the gauge changer at the border.

So when the Spanish high speed network was developed using what we would call standard gauge, this was not as perverse as it seemed. Trains operating only on the new network, initially between Madrid and Sevilla, could use off the shelf technology: in the first instance, that of the French Train à Grande Vitesse, or TGV. For trains that had to complete their journey on the broad gauge network, Talgo once again upgraded their offering to provide sets that could operate at up to 220 km/h on the new network – and so not get in the way – and then, after going through the gauge changer, also use the broad gauge one.

Also, to make journeys a little more comfortable, Talgo developed a tilt system to enable curves to be taken a little faster. This system is passive – which means that there is no need for any extra equipment to push the coach bodies into the tilt position. This also keeps the weight down.

In a country that has decided to be serious about rail travel, it’s useful to have companies that have an equally serious commitment to establishing a technology, moving it on, and doing the problem solving along the way.

[A Talgo set, doing the perversely Spanish move of backing in to a terminal station, can be seen here, and Talgo’s latest variable gauge train here]

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