April 2024 News

Trains that pass in the night

Above. In the early hours of 24th February BB 22375 is seen leaving the Triangle d'Épône at Nézel (78) on the outskirts of Paris with Naviland Cargo Train 50380/81 from Vénissieux to Rennes. Technically this was a complex photograph. The location was selected as it had no other light source. The subject was illuminated with four cobra flashes at 1/1000 of a second to freeze the image of the moving train (and avoid disturbing the driver's vision). Using a two-curtain trigger between the camera and flashes and a relatively slow camera speed of 1/50th of a second allowed as much light as possible to be captured from the background. 

Below.  A backlit composition captures BB 22389 passing Droue-sur-Drouette on 12th March with Naviland Cargo Train 50830/31 from Rennes to Vénissieux. The illuminated cab helps highlight the front of the locomotive. Photos: Erwan Quintin.

SNCF freight business facing further re-organisation

SNCF's freight business is facing its third organisational restructure in 10 years to meet the economic discontinuance agreed between the Ministry of Transport and the EU to resolve the situation of uncompetitive financial support provided to Fret SNCF between 2007 and 2020. 
The background is that prior to 2015 the freight business was a sector within SNCF, a public company wholly-owned by the state. Since 1997 there had been notional separation of network management and train operations with the creation of RFF (Réseau Ferré de France) which subcontracted all of its traffic management and maintenance activities back to SNCF; it was little more than a vehicle for SNCF's debt. 

The Single European Railway Directive 2012 brought together previous legislation and formalised into EU law the need to separate infrastructure management and train operations to facilitate open access and increase competition. To meet the directive, RFF was wound up at the end of 2014 and from 2015 SNCF restructured into three EPICs (Établissements Public Industriel et Commercial); SNCF (the parent company) with two subsidiaries; SNCF Réseau, that took on the responsibilities of RFF and  SNCF Mobilités. 

SNCF Mobilités was a mix of major transport companies that had little strategic fit with each other. It comprised of all the various SNCF domestic and cross-border passenger operations; Keolis, the world’s largest bus and tram operator; locomotive and wagon leasing companies Akiem and Erwema; and Geodis, an international freight and logistics company, of which Fret SNCF was a subsidiary. 

In 2018 domestic legislation was passed in France to prepare for the competitive tendering of publicly-funded passenger services. SNCF was restructured again. The separation between network management and train operations was strengthened, with SNCF Réseau having separate directors and accountable to the Independent Rail Regulator. Akiem and Erwema were sold off, while Keolis and Geodis were separated from French rail operations and managed at 'arms length' by the main SNCF board. 

From the beginning of 2020, the SNCF freight business became RLE (Rail Logistics Europe), comprising five subsidiaries: Fret SNCF,  Captrain, Naviland (intermodal), Forwardis (supply chains) and VIIA (rolling motorways), providing general and bulk freight services in France and Europe. At the end of 2022, the EU opened an investigation into unlawful state subsidies provided to Fret SNCF whilst part of SNCF Mobilités, including debt transferred in. The accounting within SNCF Mobilités was described as opaque, with €5 billion of subsidies provided through inter-company transfers to write off debt and provide working capital for the creation of Rail Logistics Europe, thus giving it an unfair advantage over competitors. 

As Rail Logistics Europe could not afford to repay the €5 billion, the French government has agreed to its  'economic discontinuance'. Part of this is to relinquish 23 traffic flows to competitors. From the beginning of 2024 SNCF gave up 14 traffic flows, which were taken over by DB Cargo, Lineas and Regiorail. The proposed transfer of associated rolling stock and staff did not take place, with the new operators using their existing resources. Further flows including some long distance cross-border traffic and rolling motorway services are expected to take place. This could see new operators in France, such as Portuguese operator Medway (previously CP Cargo).

 From 2025, RLE will become a new group within the SNCF group. Part of its capital will be open to minority shareholders, meeting one of the legal requirements of discontinuance. It will operate as two companies, one dealing with locomotive maintenance and the other handling the remaining traffic. Some senior staff appointments have been recently announced, all from within the existing RLE directors. The names and details governance structure of the new organisation has yet to be announced.
Still bearing its Île-de-France Mobilités 'teardrop' livery BB 27312 now owned by Beacon Rail and leased to Régiorail passes the Etangs de Leucate near Port-la-Nouvelle with Novatrans Train 50491 Valenton – Perpignan on the 19th March. Traction for this service was formerly provided by Fret SNCF but following the agreement with the EU over unlawful subsidies is one of the services handed over to a competitor. Photo: Georges Turpin.

Services here were being significantly disrupted following vandalism the previous night when the signalling cables were cut nearby at Leucate and at Lézignan-Corbières, between Narbonne and Carcassonne. While no trains were cancelled services ran up to 80 minutes late due to slow running while the cables were repaired.

Le printemps à Montastruc-la-Conseillère

On 27th February spring had come early in Haute-Garonne. At Montastruc-la-Conseillère a string of saucisses (X 73718/X 73615/X 73631) in assorted liveries were working TER 870052 the 12.31 Toulouse – Carmaux followed in the opposite direction by BB 69211/69201 double-heading Infra Train 512301 from Capdenac to Saint-Jory. With both tracks bi-directional the left hand loop is being used for all traffic on this occasion. Photos: Georges Turpin.

SNCF Group results 2023

A strong performance in the domestic rail market helped SNCF Group achieve robust results for 2023. Group turnover for the year was €41.8 billion, a small increase of 0.7% on turnover of €41.5 billion in 2022. All sectors made a gross profit/EBITDA (Earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortisation), that across the Group was 15.4% at €6.4 billion. This was slightly less than the previous year, due in part to industrial action, although free cash has nearly doubled from €1.3 to €2.5 billion. Net profit was €1.3 billion; this will be invested back into the network. Group debt fell slightly from €24.4 to €24.2 billion. 

Turnover for SNCF's French rail operations increased by 5.4%. All sectors of the domestic rail market saw increases in passenger numbers (TER 7%, Transilien 6%, Intercités 5%, domestic TGV 4% and cross-border TGV 6%), with SNCF Voyageurs increasing turnover by 10% from €17.4 to €19.2 billion. SNCF Réseau saw turnover increase by 6% from €7.2 to €7.6 billion and SNCF Gares et Connexions by 9% from €1.7 to €1.9 billion. The Group's rail freight sector Rail Logistics Europe (RLE) saw turnover 0.5% down at €1.7 billion, due in part to industrial action over pension reform and closure of the Maurienne route in August. As reported elsewhere, RLE has transferred some traffic to other operators and will be restructured in 2025 to meet the economic discontinuance of Fret SNCF agreed with the EU following uncompetitive subsidies. 

Of the Group’s two 'arms length' companies, worldwide urban transport operator Keolis saw turnover increase by 7% from €6.7 to €7.0 billion. Following three years of continuous growth logistics and shipping company Geodis saw turnover fall by 21.6% from €13.7 to €11.6 billion. This was due to a reduction in freight rates and the slowdown in the global economy. Despite this, both companies contributed to Group EBITDA: Keolis at €537 million and Geodis at €1.12 billion, equivalent to 9.6% of turnover, a high level of profitability given difficult trading conditions. 

Investments in the railway system during the year reached an historic level at €10.6 billion, of which 97% went into the French economy. One-third was financed by the Group; with the balance coming from the State, Régions and communities. During the year, SNCF recruited 25,300 new employees of which 17,300 are in permanent positions, with 8,200 staff studying for qualifications. During the year €570 million was invested in training, equivalent to 8% of the wage bill. Between 2021 and 2024 average pay has increased by 17% with starting pay up 21%, inflation over the same period has been 13%. Women now make up 30% of railway management. 

Despite an increased level of rail traffic, emissions during the year were down by 8% and electricity consumption by 7%. SNCF plans to reduce its water consumption by 10% over the next two years. Creation of a new subsidiary SNCF Renouvelables should see between 15% and 20% of electricity produced by solar panels located on SNCF land by 2030. This is the third year since the major restructuring, and with the strategies adopted by the Board SNCF is achieving its objectives of providing sustainable and profitable mobility.
BB 22335 approaches Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire with Ouigo Classique Train 4089 13.04 Paris Austerlitz – Nantes via Saumur on the 15th October 2023. This is the more southerly of the two route used by the Paris – Nantes Ouigo Classique services.

Classic Train network expands

Ouigo Train Classique plans to expand its network with  new routes in 2024. Currently its pink trains operate over two routes: Paris – Nantes (via both Le Mans and Saumur) and Paris – Lyon. From 5th April a new route will commence from Paris Austerlitz to Rennes via Massy-Palaiseau, Versailles-Chantier, Chartres, Le Mans and Laval. Journey times are between four and a half and five hours although almost an hour is spent getting from Austerlitz to Versailles.

A cross-border service linking Brussels and Paris will be introduced in the summer for the Olympics, operated by SNCB with hauled stock. Between 24th July and 11th August two services will operate in each direction. Departing Brussels Midi at 7.02 and 12.38 and Paris Gare du Nord at 12.30 and 18.48 (weekend times vary), journey time will be 3h during the week and 4h at weekends (due to engineering work). The only intermediate stop will be at Mons. 
During the Paralympics, between 28th August and 8th September, only the early morning service from Brussels and the evening return from Paris will run. Single tickets are priced at €34 second class and €49 first class. A permanent SNCF/SNCB service calling at Creil, Aulnoye-Aymeries and Mons is expected to be introduced in December.

The third new route, between Paris and Bordeaux, is expected to start in December, calling at Juvisy, Les Aubrais, Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, Futuroscope, Poitiers, Angoulême and Bordeaux. 

The three new routes will add a further 10 destinations to the Ouigo Classique network. Tickets priced between €10 and €49 can be booked on the internet up to 45 days in advance. Map: Voyager en train.

Paris – Clermont improvement plan unveiled

Further details have been released of the plan developed by SNCF to improve reliability on the Paris – Clermont-Ferrand route following the 22nd February meeting at Clermont Ferrand between the Minister of Transport, the Chairman of SNCF and local elected officials. The meeting was called following numerous delays culminating in the major incident on 19th January when the 18.57 Paris Bercy failed at Montargis and was seven hours late arriving at Clermont. Whilst locomotive failures have been one source of delay, signalling faults, catenary damage, collisions with animals and appalling weather conditions have tended to cause the more significant disruptions. 

From 4th March, a spare locomotive has been stationed at Nevers, and is manned in the evenings. (This is understood to be a BB 22200 released from Paris – Maubeuge duties by delivery of Régio 2Ns). At 18.00 it is scheduled to follow train 5978 (16:30 Clermont Ferrand – Paris) to Cosne-sur-Loire where it waits for the penultimate Paris – Clermont Ferrand services in each direction to pass. and then returns to Nevers where it is manned until the final train in each direction has passed through the the Montargis – Nevers section. During 2024 the existing locomotive fleet will be equipped with additional detectors and diagnostic equipment to point-up faults. All drivers will be trained for the alternative route via Saincaize and Vierzon to facilitate diversions if the normal route is blocked. From September, a mobile repair team will be based at Nevers to respond to problems, enabling locomotives to proceed if possible albeit at reduced speed. The spare locomotives will also be crewed for a longer period increasing its capacity to respond to incidents. 

Some 60% of incidents with delays of more than three hours are caused by external factors such as fallen trees or collisions with animals. The SNCF Réseau budget for wildlife and vegetation control is increasing from €4.7 million in 2020 to €7.1million in 2024. A wider band of lineside clearance will be adopted along with improved fencing and animal intrusion devices. An agreement with the Nièvre Hunting Federation was signed at the end of March.

A new remote monitoring system will be introduced on the Nevers – Saint-Germain-des-Fossés section to better prevent signalling incidents. Two new self-propelled road-rail vehicles with nacelles have been ordered to improve response to catenary problems; these will enter service in the summer.

A number of other initiatives have been put in place to shorten response time in the event of delays. From March, incidents on the line are now managed by the central SNCF Crisis Centre. Agreements have also been put in place with all the civil services along the route to improve response when incidents occur.

TGV cuts coming?

SNCF has denied reports that it was looking to cut some less-remunerative TGV services. Nevertheless, further reports indicate that it is demanding payment to maintain certain stops by TGVs, such as at Laval, or to maintain current service levels on routes from Paris to Annecy, Arras, Chambéry, Dijon, Grenoble, Metz-Nancy, Reims and La Rochelle. 

According to an article in Le Parisien, SNCF is considering cutting some TGVs, a measure that crops up from time-to-time in the wake of a 2015 report from the Court of Auditors which suggested TGV profitability was endangered by serving too many destinations off the core LGV network. Now the prospect of competition from Le Train, Kevin Speed and others, together with expansion of RENFE and Trenitalia high-speed services in France, has necessitated a close look at profitability, with the principle that core routes subsidise through trains to destinations away from the high-speed network again coming under review. 

Apart from reducing frequency or withdrawing trains, the option was reportedly considered of seeking payments from city and regional authorities to maintain service levels, a proposal that has angered those which contributed to the construction costs of high-speed lines or which already subsidise TGV services, as do Bretagne and Hauts-de-France. In Bretagne’s case, the subsidy enables TER passholders with ‘TGV Option’ to travel between local stations served by TGVs.
Bourgogne-Franche-Comté région and local authorities had been asked in 2019 to subsidise the €6 million deficit of the TGV service from Lille to Mulhouse via Dijon and Besançon, subsequently withdrawn when finance was not forthcoming. Mayenne département has ruled out any such payment in respect of stops at Laval. 

IIn response, SNCF Voyageurs again denied that it had ‘undertaken any assessment of overall reduction of TGV services or of destinations’. It said ‘the company always ensures an economic balance between the beneficiaries of high-speed links and those in deficit, to ensure all areas are served, and there is no question of calling this balance into question’. Concerning Chambéry and Annecy, SNCF said that far from reducing service, a sixth daily A/R was planned for introduction once the Maurienne Valley route was reopened later this year.
Above. With few passengers outside of the ski-ing season Euroduplex 851 waits to leave Bourg Saint Maurice with a virtually empty afternoon service to Paris in July 2022. 

Rouen SERM to Louviers

Line C of Rouen’s SERM will see the 7km branch from Saint-Pierre-du-Vauvray to Louviers rebuilt and electrified by 2032 as the terminus of an inverted U-shaped cross-city line. Announced in June 2021, the proposal was endorsed by the Louviers conseil municipal on 5th December 2023, when preliminary studies costing €1.2 million were approved. 

Rouen’s cross-city service was planned well before President Macron’s 2022 announcement of RERs for regional cities. The 160km network serving 34 stations will comprise three routes utilising existing lines and rights-of-way. It will be fully integrated with the city’s Plan de mobilité 2035, and partly contingent on progress with the proposed Paris – Normandie LGV (LNPN).
Line A  is the current TER Citi route that runs hourly from Yvetot in the northwest through Rouen-Rive-Droite to Elbeuf-Saint-Aubin southwest of the city. 
Line B is the existing route connecting Serqueux in the northeast with Rouen-Rive-Droite, then heading north again to Clères on the line to Dieppe. This will require electrification of the 10km from Malaunay to Clères. 
Line C will utilise the freight-only line from Elbeuf Ville to Sotteville, then turn south on the main line to Paris before branching off at Saint-Pierre-du-Vauvray where a north-to-west link will be built to enable trains to run direct to Louviers without reversal. Line C will serve the Rouen left bank redevelopment area and the reopened Saint-Sever (Rive-Gauche) station, which will relieve the constrained facilities at Rive-Droite as well as serving the proposed Paris – Normandie LGV.
The reopening of Line C has been costed separately from the SERM project at €43 million for the spur at Saint-Pierre, electrification and a new station at Louviers where the existing structure is now a music school and unavailable for railway use. Funding would come 50:50 from the State and Région Normandie. An hourly service from Louviers with a 30min journey time to central Rouen is expected to attract 1,000 daily passengers. Work is proposed to start in 2030 for opening in 2032. 

Map: Métropole Rouen Normandie.

Infrastructure News

The evening of Friday 1st March saw Infra BB 69480 operating on RER Line C with a SIM track measurement vehicle, seen above passing through Javel with Train 104774  Invalides – Versailles-Château-Rive-Gauche. Photo: Erwan Quintin.

Four big contracts worth €1.8 billion were awarded by SNCF Réseau on 11th March, the start of a seven-year programme to upgrade and renew ageing track and infrastructure. The Captrain/Eiffage consortium won two contracts: for LGV point and crossing replacement and complete track renewal on heavily-used classic routes. Colas Rail/TSO will carry out LGV ballast cleaning and replacement, and ETF/Vinci will replace around 800km of track throughout the network.

Several major works got underway or entered a new phase at the beginning of the year, during which SNCF Réseau is spending €3.2 billion on 1,600 projects, amongst them renewal of 1,064km of track and replacement or removal of 492 points.
 January saw the start of 17 months’ work to upgrade the 29km electrified single track between Sin-le-Noble (Douai) and Cambrai. In the first phase, the line was closed at night and over six weekends in January and February for replacement of track and 17 sets of points and crossings at Cambrai. From 26th February to the end of April 2025 the line is closed completely, the five intermediate stations being served by bus at a fare of €1 per single journey. Douai – Cambrai passengers can still travel by train using the route via Somain (Line K40). The State (24%), Hauts-de-France région (70%) and SNCF Réseau are investing €78 million to renew 25km of track, 19 sets of points and 24 level crossings; eight bridges will also be renovated.
At Cambrai on 28th January, replacement of points and crossings in progress. Photo: SNCF Réseau.
Following preparatory work since last October, track renewal on the 77km Niort – Saintes line started on 11th March, with trains replaced by buses outside peak hours. From 21st May the line will be closed completely until 8th November and then again for the first three months of 2025. As well as laying of 142km of new rail, 8km of trackbed will be rebuilt, four level crossings upgraded, drainage channels cleared, and the river bridge at Saint-Hilaire-Brizembourg rebuilt. The maintenance depot at Saintes is also being redeveloped. The €115 million cost is financed by Région Nouvelle-Aquitaine (76%), the State (15%) and SNCF Réseau (9%). 

Upgrading of Orléans – Vierzon under the POLT programme begun in 2023 and extending through to 2027 is concentrated this year on the 24km between Les Aubrais and La-Ferté-Saint-Aubin, and Lamotte-Beuvron to Salbris (19km). A BOA factory train is replacing 36.5 track-km working overnight until 24th May. At Vierzon itself, the €162 million project to install digital signalling took another step forward on 20th March when construction began on the new control centre; six manual signalboxes will be decommissioned by 2027.

Gare du Nord. Work is underway to replace 43 life-expired points and crossings on the approaches to Gare du Nord in Paris. Some 300 personnel are working weekday nights and at weekends to minimise disruption at Europe’s busiest station. The 44-week programme will be paused during the Olympic Games.

Andelot. Fifteen weeks’ upgrading work started on 26th February between Andelot-en-Montagne and Les Longuevilles on the single track from Dole to Vallorbe, replacing 2.5km of rail, 1,000 sleepers and nine points, plus reballasting. The €6 million project will be carried out almost entirely at night. 

Train Jaune. Engineering work is taking place from 26th February to 26th April. Substations at Bourg-Madame and Saint-Léocadie are being upgraded, three tunnels partially relined, revetments strengthened between Olette and Mont Louis, and some track renewed. With the railway closed, bus 560 from Latour-de-Carol to Prades is supplemented by two additional Sunday-only services. This year’s work is costed at €7.6 million. 
Lisieux. Station trackwork is being renewed as part of the €65 million (Paris) – Mantes – Cherbourg upgrade. Working between 23.30 and 05.30 most nights until May, SNCF Réseau is replacing 3.2km of rail, 5,200 sleepers and 6,000 tonnes of ballast. On the branch to Trouville-Deauville (summer-only service), the telecommunications system is being upgraded and Trouville station made fully-accessible. 

Huningue. Work started on 19th March to renovate the 2.7km freight line from Saint-Louis to the Rhine port of Huningue just north of Bâle, threatened with closure due to the poor state of its infrastructure. €1.5 million will be spent this year on track relaying and renewal of two level crossings to allow trains to run until 2029, when a further €7 million will be invested. Funding comes from the State and Grand Est région (€517,000 each), Collectivité européenne d’Alsace (€105,000), Euro Rhein Ports and Saint-Louis Agglomération. Principal traffic is movement of grain for dispatch by river, but with barge capacity limited by low water levels the Collectivité is looking to handle more freight by rail.

Translozérien. The 77km line between Le Monastier, Mende and La Bastide-St-Laurent-les-Bains is receiving a further €8.3 million expenditure. During April and May, the 155m-long snow shelter at Daufage (altitude 1,155m) is being demolished and its asbestos lining removed. In addition, 5km of track will be renewed and rock cuttings strengthened at six locations.
Paris – Lyon. In early February Hitachi Rail completed the first dynamic trial of its SEI+ digital ATP system being installed on the Paris – Lyon LGV. The line will be closed completely from 9th to 12th November for commissioning of Alstom’s Atlas Level 2 ERTMS, replacing 37-year old interlockings. About one-third of the usual TGV service will operate, using the classic route and running no further that Toulon.

Pays de la Loire. Work has started on installing over 100km of new fencing between Le Mans and Nantes, where a large proportion of delays are caused by incidents of animals on the track. The proposed Nantes Atlantique airport station has taken a step forward with Loire-Atlantique département authorising clearance of 9Ha of land at Bouguenais adjacent to the Pornic/Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie line, prior to environmental impact studies. Improved service is planned for this route, with new signalling and additional passing loops to be installed by 2030. Cost of the single-platform airport station is put at €22.3 million. Upgrading between Saumur and Les-Sables-d’Olonne (191km) is proposed for completion by 2030.

Perpignan – Salses. Two factory trains are working every night through March and April renewing track between Perpignan and Salses (17km). Rail, sleepers and ballast are being replaced in a project costing €54 million.
Grand Est to buy 15 lines. Grand Est région plans to buy from SNCF Réseau 15 secondary lines out of the 21 where services will be put out to tender. The motivation is that if service improvements from competitive tendering are to achieve their potential, then the lines need significant investment to address maintenance arrears, replace obsolete signalling and modernise station facilities. The lines selected are those where there is the greatest need for maintenance and the best opportunity to improve services. The first lines already confirmed and agreed with the EU extend to 150km: Strasbourg – Sélestat and Strasbourg – Molsheim – Épinal, plus Nancy – Contrexéville which will reopen in 2027 with a new operator to be announced shortly. Other lines include the Strasbourg – Lauterbourg and Mulhouse – Müllheim cross-border routes. Grand Est has budgeted €300 million for the initial purchases, the cost rising to over €1 billion for all 15 lines.

On a clear, cool 13th March Infra liveried BB 22297  passes Conilhac-Corbières between Carcassonne and Narbonne  with a short Train 66009 from Hourcade to  Portes. Photo: Georges Turpin.

Bourges – Montluçon update

The €85 million renovation of the Bourges – Montluçon line has passed the half-way stage, the section south of Saint-Amand-Montrond-Orval reopening on 26th February with four daily trains to Montluçon. Work is now concentrated on the northern portion, scheduled for reopening on 1st September. The project is jointly funded by Régions Centre Val-de-Loire (€50 million) and AURA (€35 million). 

On the southern section, a total of 31km of track has been renewed at a number of sites where speed had been limited to 40 km/h since 2017; the Cher bridge at Montluçon has been renovated and given anti-corrosion treatment. Yet to be completed is resignalling of the passing loop at Vallon and some minor track and point work at Montluçon, this to be carried out at night between July and the end of September. 
To the north of Saint-Amand, 30km of track will be relaid between Orval and Lunery, and 5km resleepered at Saint-Florent-sur-Cher. The work will permit 110 km/h running on the largely single-track route, with 140 km/h on the double track between Saint-Florent and the junction at Pont-Vert outside Bourges (13km). The single track is still controlled by manual block; resignalling is planned for the 2030s in a separate project costed at €40 million.

When service is fully restored, there will be seven daily Bourges – Montluçon TERs, with Paris connections promised by SNCF to be at least as good as in 2020. Nevertheless, journey times between Paris and Montluçon will still be up to 40 minutes longer than 1998 timings by through trains which ran via the west-to-south curve at Pont-Vert to avoid reversal at Bourges.

The line also carries freight, including some 275,000 tonnes of cereals annually for Soufflet and Axereal, up to eight trains a week in season, as well as serving the Inveho wagon works at Orval. There is also a train hauling clay to Modena in Italy from Lavaufranche, west of Montluçon on the line to Limoges.
Régiolis MUs replaced Corail stock on the Bourges – Montluçon line in 2019. When through trains still ran to Paris, Above BB 67481 pulls away from Saint-Amand-Montrond-Orval with the midday service from Paris Austerlitz to Montluçon

Dinan – Lamballe progress

A visit in mid-February found work to be well advanced on the €53.8 million renewal of the 41km single track from Dinan to Lamballe in Bretagne despite delays caused by prolonged heavy rainfall. Vintage track, much of it with steel sleepers, has been replaced with concrete sleepers and rail recovered from LGV renewals; line speed has been lifted from 60 to 100km/h. The only crossing loop, at Plancoët, has been removed. The electrified connection to a silo 5km east of Lamballe has been cut but live catenary left in place for possible use by bimode trains.

Seven train pairs a day will run from 7th July, a big improvement on the previous three, expected to be operated by Class X 73500 single cars, with most extended from Lamballe to Saint-Brieuc. Stations have 90m platforms to accommodate three cars in multiple.
Together with earlier work east of Dinan, the Dol-de-Bretagne – Dinan – Lamballe upgrade has cost €78 million.

By 2026, Lamballe will have an even more frequent service to Saint-Brieuc and Guingamp. Under the BreizhGo Express Nord plan, there will be eight trains daily at four stations between Lamballe and Guingamp currently served by just one each way on weekdays only: Yffiniac, La Méaugon, Plouvara-Plerneuf and Châtelaudren-Plouagat. There will also be an additional 15 trains each way at stations westwards to Brest. Cost of the project is €50 million including three additional EMUs.
Clearance of one of the bridges between Dinan and Lamballe revealed hidden hatches accessed by vertical pipes, thought to have been for placing explosives to destroy the bridge if necessary during wartime. Photo: SNCF Réseau/Laurent Boucard.

News in brief

No pass after all. Plans for an unlimited rail pass based on Germany’s €49 D-Ticket have been shelved by the new transport minister. With the cost estimated at over €1 billion annually, Patrick Vergriete reiterated his earlier comment on the plan promoted by his predecessor: “We must stop having good ideas with other people’s money”. Instead, there is to be an experimental summer-season TER/Intercités pass targeted at youngsters.

Clermont SERM. The project outlined in last September’s News was officially launched in February with formation of the Clermont Auvergne steering group comprising representatives of the Métropole, Puy-de-Dôme département, AURA région and SNCF. An application for State funding was to be submitted by 30th March.

Alstom. Plans to cut around 1,500 jobs worldwide, including 300 in France, led to strikes in February at the Crespin and Petite-Forêt sites where staff had been offered a pay rise of 1.6% in response to their demand for 10%.

Evian – Saint-Gingolph. On 18th March the Swiss canton of Valais approved funding of SwFr22.8 million for reopening of the line from Saint-Gingolph to Evian (17.8km), closed since 1998. The sum comprises SwFr4.8 million for studies and SwFr18 million as a 10% contribution towards the cost of renovating the line which is entirely within France. It hopes for a similar commitment from AURA région. In 2020, a Franco-Swiss study recommended reopening as an extension of the Léman-Express RER, with a service linking Geneva and Brig through France forecast to attract 1.5 million passengers a year.

Guebwiller. Association FloriRail held a ground-clearing event at Guebwiller on 25th February to promote the case for reopening the 7km branch to the Mulhouse – Colmar line at Bollwiller, closed to passengers in 1969. Other locals would prefer the alignment to be used for road-widening. 

La Grand’Croix. A halt is to be built here, 17km south of Saint-Étienne-Châteaucreux on the line to Lyon, for opening by 2028. The original station closed in 1990. Developed under the Mobi’LYSE plan for public transport improvements promised when the A45 motorway was cancelled in 2018, this will be a multimodal interchange with parking for 400 cars. The Saint-Étienne – Lyon – Amberieu local service will move to three per hour in 2026. 

GPSO tax rebels. The movement challenging local tax funding for the Bordeaux – Toulouse LGV is encouraging all 2,340 communes affected to join the protest against ‘the injustice of a 40-year TGV tax for a train they will never use’.

141 R parts for sale. Components of privately-owned 141 R 1207 and 141 R 1322 have been put up for sale in Switzerland. The locomotives were dismantled when bought by the current owner in 2002. Parts include the overhauled frame, chassis and axles of 141 R 1322 and the partially-overhauled boiler (with new smokebox), chassis, frame and axles and completely-overhauled tender of 141 R 1207.

241 P 17 returns. The major overhaul of Le Creusot based 241 P 17 has been completed. A full programme of tours is planned for this summer starting on 20th April, further details available via this link 

Étaples – Saint-Pol. Rail services between Étaples and Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise were finally restored on 18th March having been suspended since 8th November due to heavy flooding. The line had been rebuilt in recent years but a 300m section near Montreuil-sur-Mer has had to be rebuilt again after it was washed away. Work was delayed due to further flooding in December and January.
EuroAirport. Agreement has been reached on financing the 6km deviation of the Bâle – Mulhouse line to serve EuroAirportBasel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (see September 2023 News). The €475 million cost will be shared between the French and Swiss states, Land Baden-Württemberg and EuroAirport; an application has been made for a contribution from the EC. The project is unlikely to be completed before 2035.

RENFE to Paris…But not in time for the Olympics. RENFE’s hopes of starting its Paris – Lyon service before the end of July have been dashed by delay in certification of its AVE S100 trains for the route.

Vendée reopenings scrapped. Proposals to reopen halts at Velluire-sur-Vendée, Nalliers and Champ-Saint-Père between La Roche-sur-Yon and La Rochelle have been abandoned by Région Pays de la Loire. The towns will instead be served by a fast bus from La Roche-sur-Yon to Fontenay-le-Comte, the sous préfecture, where the railway closed in 1969.

RDT13. Following discovery of irregularities in its administration, from 1st January the rail freight operations of Bouches-du-Rhône département transport authority RDT13 have been taken over by RTM Marseille’s new railway department.

Valdunes rescue. Waste-processing specialist Europlasma’s bid for France’s only wheel and wheelset manufacturer Valdunes was accepted by the Lille commercial court on 20th March. Despite funding of €35 million from State and other sources, it is expected that 131 employees will be made redundant out of the 309 at the company’s two sites.

Sarthe voies verte. Work started on 21st February to convert the railway alignment between La Suze and La Flèche into a voie verte, adding a further 29km to the département’s 80km of greenways.

Ticket policies changed. As well as changing the way price ceilings are calculated for tickets bought with Cartes Avantage, SNCF has implemented a baggage limit on TGV Inoui and Intercités trains. Two pieces of luggage no larger than 90 x 70 x 50cm are permitted, or one larger item, along with one piece of hand luggage. Ticket price caps of €49, €69 and €89 based on journey time including connections are now calculated using average journey time (eg of both fast and stopping services). As a result, some passengers face fares increases of up to 41%.

Paris – Berlin. ÖBB’s Nightjet has encountered operating problems caused by engineering work and strikes in Germany, with weekend trains cancelled on nine nights during February and for three weeks up to mid-March. Paris passengers offered an alternative route with a change in Mannheim report a four-hour wait there in uncomfortable conditions before departure of the Berlin train at 02.30.

Access charge challenge. The Conseil d’Etat (constitutional court) has made a further ruling concerning the challenge by eight régions against the increase in TER access charges for 2024 to 2026 (see February News).The opinion that SNCF Réseau had fixed the new charges ‘in a non-transparent way and without consulting the relevant transport authorities’ is sustained. Now the 2024 increase will apply only until October by which time SNCF must come up with a new proposal based on more detailed information as to the inflationary pressures it faces, and after wider consultation with stakeholders.

. Two railwaymen have launched boursedurail.fr, a networking platform linking railway, industrial, equipment and construction companies. Members can search for services ranging from rolling stock rental to employment opportunities.

Nez Cassés Parade

Despite the transfer south of former Normandie Class BB 26000 Sybics, Classes BB 7200/22200 still appear to dominate the Bordeaux Saint-Jean – Marseille Saint-Charles Intercités services. Above. On 13th March BB 7254, introduced in 1978 and sporting a distinctive green cab front for some years, passes Conilhac-Corbières with Train 4760 11.22 Marseille – Bordeaux. On the same day, between Marcorignan and Narbonne, BB 22337 was at the head of Train 4661 12.22 Bordeaux – Marseille (below left), followed four minutes later by BB 7255 with Train 4762 13.29 Marseille – Bordeaux (below right).Photos: Georges Turpin. 

Also observed that day were BB 7297 (Train 4655 06.20 Bordeaux – Marseille), BB 7293 (Train 4758 09.29 Marseille – Bordeaux), and BB 7258 on Train 4663 14.20 Bordeaux – Marseille.

Kevin Speed signs framework agreement with SNCF Réseau

Kevin Speed, the new start-up high-speed operator described as the 'Ryanair of the train', took a step forward when it signed a framework agreement with SNCF Réseau for train path volumes for a period of 10 years from 2028. The agreement that has also to be approved by France's rail regulator provides more detail of the proposed business model. Operating under the ilisto brand, hourly service would be offered on the Paris – Lille, Paris – Strasbourg and Paris – Lyon high-speed routes calling at intermediate stations. 

Like other start-up operators, Kevin Speed now needs to raise capital to purchase rolling stock. In the first round of funding in 2023, it raised €4 million. Professional advisors have been appointed for the second round to raise €1.2 billion for 20 high-speed trains from Alstom. These would have a high-density layout with no catering, similar to low-cost airlines. The plan would be to offer a low-cost, no-frills service with the rolling stock used intensively.

Railcoop supporters complete citizens’ relay

On 1st March, 200 supporters of Railcoop reached Lyon on their citizens’ relay to raise awareness of the proposed Bordeaux – Lyon rail service. Having left Bordeaux on 18th February, some members had walked or cycled the complete route. Placed in administration by the Commercial Court in October, Railcoop has until mid-April to raise sufficient capital to continue. Although having nearly 15,000 individual and corporate members, it has been unable to raise sufficient capital to launch the service. Recent press reports suggest they may consider selling the two X72500 units that they own.

While there is some interest from socially-inclined lenders, the cooperative structure of 'one member one vote' is a problem for major lenders who would want to exercise a degree of control proportionate to their investment. But many members are opposed to investors with expectations of profitability not consistent with their social values. One proposal has been a modified governance structure with the cooperative operating the trains but the investment capital and ticket revenue vested in joint stock companies. Another potential lender, the European Investment Bank, is only interested in new rolling stock, not the former SNCF X 72500s introduced in 1999 and withdrawn in 2020 that Railcoop had intended buying from AURA région and overhauling.

There is also concern about the perceived management naivety at Railcoop, having sunk a large amount of capital into the unprofitable freight service between Viviez-Decazeville and Toulouse rather than focussing on the principal objective of the Bordeaux – Lyon passenger service. One aim of the citizens’ relay was to highlight the lack of interest by Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Nouvelle-Aquitaine régions. Studies have suggested that 70% of demand across the route is for intermediate travel within individual regions, with very little demand for the end-to-end journey, especially one taking 7h. 

Railcoop had planned to start the Bordeaux – Lyon service in summer 2024, but has now said it may have to be deferred until November, due to planned engineering work in September and October. In reality, 2025 or 2026 would seem to be more realistic, assuming the business is not wound up by the Commercial Court before then.

Update: On the 27th March Railcoop wrote to members informing them that liquidation seemed inevitable. This follows a judgement against them in the Clermont Ferrand Commercial Court on 21st March by ACC M relating to storage charges for the two X 72500 units. Railcoop now accept that the Cahors Commercial Court will have no option but to liquidate the cooperative when the case returns to the Court on the 15th April.

Road protesters suspend rail service

Rail services between Toulouse and Mazamet were suspended beyond Lavaur and replaced by buses from 9th March and an emergency timetable introduced until further notice following a number of safety incidents.
For several months, opponents of the A69 Toulouse – Castres motorway (see March News) have been demonstrating around the construction sites close to the railway, trespassing on the track with some stone throwing. Previously they had claimed responsibility for a lineside fire that disrupted trains between Toulouse and Castelnaudary on 29th February, though the protest seemed directed at SNCF freight policy rather than the motorway

Opposite. On 22nd October Occitanie TER Régiolis B83527/8 passes the abandoned yard and goods shed as it departs from Lavaur for Toulouse, another day when trains had been replaced by buses from Mazamet. Photo: Georges Turpin.

The former depot at Laon, abandoned and slowly being consumed by vegetation.

Roundhouse update

Recent events have highlighted the uncertain future of France's former roundhouses with the decline of locomotive haulage and the changing needs of modern rolling stock. A change.org online petition was launched in February to save the roundhouse at Nevers from demolition by an architect wishing to preserve its unique architecture. In the first two weeks it collected nearly 3,000 signatures, although there appears to be no clear plan how the building would be preserved or converted. 

The semi-roundhouse at Castres is finally to be demolished. Redundant since 1957 when the lines east of Toulouse were dieselised, it was bought by the local council which could not find a use for it. It is now in poor condition and at risk of collapse. At one time the depot had 500 employees. Two of its allocation, 140 A 908 and 230 B 614, live on at the Cité du Train Mulhouse. 

As previously reported, the listed roundhouse at Mohon, recently used as a store for Cité du Train, has been sold by SNCF to an engineering company. In poor condition, its new owners will undertake repairs to the structure and use it for manufacture of bespoke railway engineering equipment. They will also open it for heritage events. The rolling stock previously stored there has been distributed to preservation groups across France. The position as reported on social media is set out below:
Cite de Train - Mulhouse
CC 14018
BB 12115
BB 63413
BB 66001

CFTVA - Arques
 230 D 9

AAPSL - Achères

TPCF - Axat
BB 348
BB 4769.

CMCF - Oignies
BB 16113
BB 16745

APPF - Chagny
BB 17013
BB 80010

BB 88511
Voiture Corail VU Ambulance
AMPFS - Ambérieu
BB 9284 (BB 9292)
Automotrice Z7133
CC 6530

AJECTA - Longueville
BB 12114
CC 72029

PVC - Sotteville
 150 P 13
Saucisson car
Remaining at Mohon: BB 13052, A1AA1A 68523, Automotrice T2020, Y7218, Crane Caillard, Panoramic Saloon Car.
Location unknown:  BB 7315, BB 8616, Y6320 Z1567 2 x Stainless steel car , CIWL Yb 3830, CIWL WP 4156, BB 9337

X232 returns to Brittany

In mid-February, after an absence of over 50 years, autorail X232 has returned to the Réseau Breton, delivered along with Billiard trailer R5 to the Chemin de fer de Bon Repos at Gouarec. 

X232 was one of three built by Decauville at Corbeil in 1939 for Chemins de fer de l’Indochine et du Yunnan but never delivered because of WW2. They were bought by SNCF in 1951 for use on the Réseau Breton. Following closure of the RB in 1967, X232 was stored privately and in 1972 travelled to what is now the Velay Express for working between Dunières and Saint-Agrève, although it never entered service there.
With little interest from its owner, X232 was at risk of being scrapped before it was saved by MTVS. It was designated a Monument Historique but without the capacity to undertake a full restoration it was sand-blasted and covered in epoxy resin to avoid further deterioration. 

It is seen above being loaded on to a transporter at Crèvecoeur ready for transfer to Gouarec. Ex-CFD wagon 4044 and a Cerdagne crane were transported to Crèvecoeur on the return Journey. 
Opposite. In 1957, a Decauville autorail, believed to be X232, is running round at Camaret-sur-Mer, terminus of the RB line from Châteaulin. 
Photos: Olivier Janneau and FRS Archive.

141 TB 424 overhaul nearing completion

The  overhaul of 141 TB 424 took a major step forward at the end of February when the boiler was lifted back into the frames, and should be ready for a further ten years.
Probably the only standard gauge steam locomotive to receive an overhaul at the former Réseau Breton works at Carhaix, 141 TB 424 is expected to be  operating the Vapeur du Trieux between Guingamp – Paimpol again this year.

141 TB 424 is operated by Mulhouse based AAATV (Amicale des Anciens et Amis de la Traction à Vapeur) although it has been no further east than Longueville in recent years.
Photo: Ouest-France.

Urban rail

Line 14 to Orly – Just in time

With the 26th July start of the Paris Olympic Games ever-pressing, automated metro Line 14’s southern extension to Aéroport d’Orly (14km, seven stations) will open ‘in mid-June’ according to Société des Grands Projets. As well as serving France’s second-busiest airport with a 20min journey time to the city centre at Châtelet, the extension is effectively the first part of the Grand Paris Express project to be completed and gives Parisians a foretaste of the architectural detail, fittings, lighting and signage that will be used throughout the GPE network. At the airport terminus, a striking fresco by street-artist Vhils has been conceived in azulejos, traditional Spanish/Portuguese tin-glazed tilework, the colour echoing that chosen for the line. 

Opening at the same time is the short northern extension to Saint-Denis-Pleyel, designed to cope with 250,000 passengers daily when GPE Lines 15, 16 and 17 are in full operation. The extensions add eight stations, though that at Villejuif-Gustave Roussy, an interchange with the future Line 15, will not open until December. Ridership is expected to be 1 million daily, with 60 trains in service at peak times operating at 80sec headway under newly-installed Siemens radio-based CBTC. Photos: Sortiraparis/Caroline.

Toulouse metro collapse

An elevated section of Toulouse Metros new Line C collapsed on the 4th March killing one worker and injuring three others. The 5km viaduct section between Montaudran and  the terminus at Labège is being built using a 120 metre 'launching beam' that allows the deck to be suspended between the piers while under construction. (Seen above in yellow). At the accident site the viaduct passes under  high-voltage lines which limits the height. Here the 50 tonne segments are placed on shoring by a crane and jacked up until level. The accident occurred when  a 20 metre span collapsed as the last segment (visible in front of left pylon) was being lifted into position. Photo: Georges Turpin.

Lyon free trial. From 2nd April, car-commuters are offered a three-month free trial of TCL public transport or 12 months’ free access to Vélo-v cycle-sharing under the Découverte mobilité scheme to develop a low-emissions zone. Users must not have subscribed to the service of their choice for the past three years. €2 million has been allocated to subsidise the offer. Sale of TCL paper tickets ended on 15th February; existing supplies can be exchanged for 10-times rechargeable contactless cards within six months.

Longer in Le Mans. The Métropole is ordering additional intermediate sections to lengthen its trams from 32m to 44m to increase capacity. Alstom will adapt the 34 trams and equip them with CCTV and energy-saving software in a contract valued at €60 million.

RATP four-day week. Agreement has been reached with three trades unions for trials of a four-day working week. Since January, 170 volunteers from metro Lines 5, 7, 9 and RER B have moved from five or six days’ work followed by two or three rest days to four days on/two days off, without necessarily increasing working hours. RATP’s traditionally-low staff turnover has been rising and the trial is seen as one way of improving working conditions. Social housing for a further 1,100 personnel is to be provided this year, along with 70 additional crèche places for children of staff working weekends and unsocial hours. 

Metro illness protocol. In a new measure designed to keep trains moving during incidents on the Paris metro, passengers taken ill will no longer be treated onboard immobilised trains. Instead, they will be removed to the platform and assisted there by staff so that trains can resume running as soon as possible. When suspect packages are found, trains will continue to be halted until sniffer dogs give the all-clear. 

Paris T3b. The tram route T3b extension from Porte d’Asnières to Porte Dauphine (see January News) opens on 5th April.

© Peter Lovell & Chris Bushell. The French Railways Society 2024. With thanks to Georges Turpin, Erwan Quintin and Olivier Janneau.