Voici le Turbotrain RTG.

Copyright as in image

We can conclude from the above that it’s (a) French (b) a train and (c) involves turbos.

And we’d be nearly right, as the RTG involved not merely turbos but turbines.

In an ideal world, this would involve a jet engine strapped on top and for added excitement a touch of afterburning so you could set off from Platform 12 with flames shooting out the back. Sadly, the train actually had Turbomeca gas turbine engines originally intended for the Super Frelon helicopter which were connected to Voith hydrodynamic transmissions, something we’ve explored before. They used a torque converter for first gear and fluid couplings for the (or each of the) higher gears.

The advantage of the gas turbine was that it produced a lot of power for not much weight and so SNCF, the French national railway operator, ordered several varieties of Turbotrain so that they could obtain high speeds on lines not deemed busy enough to be wired up.

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The last and most successful turbine train was the RTG (Rame à Turbines à Gaz, or Gas Turbine Train) T2000 which entered service in France in 1973 and was retired in 2004. Each trainset had five units, two of which were powered by a turbine, and was also equipped with two smaller turbines to provide lighting and air conditioning. Unfortunately for the Turbotrain its entry into service coincided with the 1973 oil crisis and its remarkable thirst became an issue. In an attempt to reduce running costs one unit from each train was given a larger gas turbine which was capable of maintaining cruising speed on its own. The other power car kept its original engine to provide a bit of extra go when acceleration was called for.

A combination of electrification and high operating costs gradually reduced the fleet and the last runs were made in December 2004.

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Want to see and hear the last run? Here you go.

Want to hear one starting and stopping with the rev counter going round the clock several times? Here you go.

Following the retirement of the RTG the direct journey from Lyons to Bordeaux increased from seven and a half to nine hours, partially because the replacement trains were slower and partially because they were hauled by a single loco and had to be reversed four times, a job not needed on the double ended RTG.

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The French call this the Pupitre de Conduire, the Pulpit of Driving.

Export models were used by Amtrak in the US and also by Egyptian and Iranian railways. Five of the last operating trainsets in France were sold to Iran in 2004, originally as a source of spares for their own fleet, and were taken there by road in 2005, an undertaking in itself. Subsequently the Iranians converted them to Volvo diesels.

The Egyptian National railway bought three trains in 1983 and continued to use them until recently.

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Amtrak used their version, the Turboliner, until 2004 by which time it had gone through several renovations. The Turboliner’s retirement was forced upon Amtrak following disagreements between them and the state of New York and the trains were put up for sale in 2007. Judging by the picture not much success was had with the sale.

The RTG wasn’t by any means the only turbine train made - amongst other British Rail and Union Pacific experimented with them.

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So there we have it. The gas turbine train, an answer to a question asked rarely before and only once since.