Train Through Divided Country

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Did you know that Russia has its own high-speed railway? A recent tweet pointed this out:

Le TGV russe, symbole d'un pays à deux vitesses #sapsan
Marie Simon

It links to this article in the French newsmagazine L’Express, with an accompanying photo-montage. So it’s true: the special train service is called the “Sapsan” (Сапсан), Russian for “peregrine falcon,” and has operated since last December on the classic Moscow-to-St. Petersburg route (and only there, so far; that particular route has been in service since 1851). Its Siemens-built trains, with top speeds of 250 km/hour, link Russia’s two premier cities in only three hours, forty minutes.

There are some notable things about the Sapsan, quite apart from its limited route. (It’s relatively new, after all.) As the reader realizes from the photo there at the top of the article, it operates on ordinary tracks, unlike some high-speed services in Europe (e.g. in France, the Netherlands) which use custom-built tracks which can be fenced off. Quite apart from technical considerations, in Russia such security measures are probably called for, given that country’s infamous plague of alcoholism; as things stand, the Sapsan amounts to yet another executioner (more deadly-efficient than other trains, due to its extraordinary speed) of the many drunks who wander onto the rails at the wrong time every year (almost 3,000 in 2009). (more…)

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