Night trains, small lines, rail freight… The revenge of rail

The way seems clear for the train to regain its splendor. The railroad has rarely been so much in the spotlight … and public subsidies. After taking over 25 billion euros of debt from SNCF in early 2020, which should be followed by another 10 billion euros in 2022, the State has allocated an envelope of 4.7 billion euros to rail in its plan stimulus.

The main part is devoted to a recapitalization of the SNCF to allow in particular the investments necessary for the regeneration of the traditional network – that is to say, excluding high-speed lines – which has suffered from underinvestment since the 1980s. chronic. But credits are also allocated to sections of the railways that were thought to be doomed to attrition, or even disappearance.

Jean Castex in a bunk

Night trains thus seemed to vanish in the darkness of their chronic deficit. Between 2016 and 2017, six out of the eight lines still in existence were removed. Only two were saved: Paris-Briançon (Hautes-Alpes) and Paris-Latour-de-Carol (Pyrénées-Orientales). Among those sacrificed, there was the famous Paris-Nice… which has just been relaunched with great media support on May 19, its berths welcoming the Prime Minister, Jean Castex for the occasion. The government mentions a Paris-Tarbes at the end of the year and even a dozen others by 2030.

“Just as the polar bear is one of the symbols of endangered biodiversity, the night train represents for rail lovers the abandonment of traditional rail in favor of all-TGV”, smiles Nicolas Forien, from the Oui au train de nuit! collective. “These trains have the advantage of serving many medium-sized towns while the TGV links mainly large metropolitan areas to Paris.

The development of Intercités de jour is also in tune with the times. A recent government report thus identifies possible new links, in particular between Toulouse and Lyon or between Metz, Nancy, Dijon, Lyon and Grenoble.

Helping small lines

The state is also showing its willingness to save dying freight or to increase, with the regions, small-scale subsidies, in which a report submitted to the government in 2018 nevertheless recommended cutting back on the quick. In Saint-Dié-des-Vosges (Vosges), we are impatiently awaiting the end of the year. “The line to Épinal should reopen after being closed in 2018”, rejoices the mayor, David Valence, also vice-president of the Grand Est region, in charge of transport. “It had lacked investment for twenty years, and the speed was so degraded that the train was no longer relevant. “

The work cost around twenty million euros, a third of which was provided by the State under a contract with the region. “Few lines have benefited from such participation of the public authorities which undoubtedly pays much more attention than before to the situation of daily trains”, notes David Valence. However, the government is not giving up investing, alongside local communities, in the construction of new high-speed lines (LGV). More than 4 billion will be devoted to the Bordeaux-Toulouse line. In 2017, Emmanuel Macron intended to take a break from these major projects.

A little blur on the distribution of the envelope

“In the 2010s, several reports pointed to an alarming situation on the economic and technical levels of French railways”, recalls Arnaud Aymé, transport specialist at Sia Partners. Will this new alignment of planets allow the train to set off again towards new horizons or is it a “Sprinkling” opportunist, during an election period, as some unions denounce? Other analysts are worried about the abysmal losses of SNCF last year, which would make insufficient the envelope released by the State.

“We cannot neglect the fact that we are in an election period, remarks Arnaud Aymé. Signs of goodwill are sent to local elected officials but also to citizens of underserved areas. “ According to this specialist, things are still a little unclear on how the envelope of 4.7 billion euros will be distributed. “But the attention paid to the traditional network, which has suffered from chronic underinvestment for forty years in favor of all-TGV, is essential because it is the key to success for the rebound of the entire system”, he adds.

Greening transport

Greening the results of the five-year period is undoubtedly no stranger to this mobilization for rail. Societal pressure in favor of the environment is a definite asset for rail. “I myself am surprised by the success with young people of our eco-comparator, which measures CO emissions for the same trip.2 depending on the means of transport used ‘, says Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs who oversees all passenger transport activities.

Regional trains could be successful in this revenge of rail. “TERs transport 1.2 million people per day, Christophe Fanichet advances. It could be 1.5 million within five years. Today, 9 out of 10 people still use the car for their daily commute. ” This is also where SNCF innovates the most for greener engines such as biofuels, hydrogen or hybrids …

President of the National Federation of Transport User Associations (Fnaut), Bruno Gazeau says he is convinced that the movement can be sustainable. “For two to three years we have seen the attraction of the train return, he said. The number of travelers is increasing, especially in daily trains, and many public inquiries have been opened for work. While one should be wary of ad effects, things seem to be moving in the right direction. “


15,000 trains per day

Excluding the health crisis, 15,000 commercial passenger trains SNCF trains run daily, including 600 high-speed trains, 6,200 Transiliens (regional trains from Île-de-France), more than 8,200 TER and 80 Intercités.

Five million people are transported by these trains every day including 3.5 million in Île-de-France; 1.2 million by TER and nearly 400,000 on long-distance trains (TGV and Intercités).

A thousand freight trains run every day with 250,000 tonnes of goods. SNCF and its subsidiaries still hold nearly 70% of the market share in this activity, which was liberalized on French lines in 2006.

The French rail network is the second in Europe with 30,000 km of lines including 2,600 km of high speed lines.


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