Super Vite

France unveils an ultra-speedy train that's roomier and more efficient than its predecessors

AGV

Alstom

Here it is: the high-speed train your kids will take when they backpack around Europe. It's called the AGV (Automotrice a Grand Vitesse, which translates to High-Speed Self-Propelled Unit). This 224 mph machine is the successor to the TGV, which started the European high-speed train boom in the early 1980s.

The French rail giant Alstom (also the manufacturer of the London-to-Paris Eurostar train) unveiled AGV in a press conference today outside Paris featuring French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Alstom says the AGV is both faster and more energy-efficient than its predecessor and its rivals. By comparison, the TGV tops out at 200 mph (though last year a supercharged TGV set a world rail speed record at 357.2 mph), and Japan's Shinkansen bullet train tops out at 185 mph.

The AGV's gets a boost in speed and efficiency from a design that places engines underneath each car. This does away with the locomotives in front and back that drive the TGV, and results in 30 percent better fuel efficiency and 20 percent more passenger space than the TGV. (It can hold up to 700 people.)

Interestingly, it looks as if the first AGVs to carry passengers will appear in Italy. The Italian transport company Nuovo Transporto Aiaggiatori has ordered 25 AGVs, which should start running in Italy by 2011-2012.