"Look at the plane," a child shouted some months ago, pointing through the window of the sleek TGV (as the Trains of Great Speed are called after their initials in French). Travelers could see a small, single-engine plane high in the sky, falling farther behind in its vain attempt to keep up with the train, which reaches 168 m.p.h. on the Paris-to-Lyon line. Although French writer Marcel Proust described the raptures of rail travel in loving detail in the early years of the century, there is no historical or cultural reason why France should still maintain an extensive and modern railway system.
Use of the sleek, bright-orange, electrically powered TGV, which began operations in 1981, is helped by the size of France, a small country when compared to the United States. On its first line, the TGV has cut in half, to two hours, the rail travel time for the 240 miles between Paris and Lyon, taking away 50% of the travelers who used to go by plane. The TGV also is one of the few operations of the French Railways that makes a profit.
There are plans to build TGV lines from Paris to Bordeaux on the Atlantic Coast and from Paris to Belgium and West Germany. Officials hope that once the English Channel tunnel is completed in the 1990s, the TGV can take passengers directly from Paris to London.