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High Speed Plans Off the Rails

Wednesday 01 August 2012

Up to 10 out of 14 planned high-speed rail projects are set for the chop due to budgetary constraints.

Although there has as yet been no official decision, the Minister of Budget Jérôme Cahuzac recently stated that “the government has no choice other than to abandon certain TGV projects”.

The Minister questioned the wisdom of increasing the number of TGV lines “for a marginal gain in travel time”, when there seemed greater urgency to concentrate resources on existing commuter and main line rail routes.

His view was quickly echoed by Guillaume Pepy, president of SNCF, the state owned French railway company. “What the government has announced seems to me entirely reasonable and realist. We need to look at all the projects from the point of view of the environment, energy, their usefulness and their degree of urgency", he stated.

He went on to say that “my belief is that the priority of SNCF must be the daily commuter network, that is to say the RER Ile-de-France, the regional TER trains, as well as the existing main line network”.

The Minister of Transport, Frédéric Cuvillier, has also confirmed that a committee has been set up to prioritise projects and to examine their feasibility.

The map opposite shows those lines at risk, and you can click here to enlarge the map and view the list of lines.

Volte Face

In 2008 the French Government announced the proposed construction of 14 new TGV lines by 2020, covering 2,000 kilometres. Were they all to be constructed it would more than double the current 1750 kilometres of high-speed lines.

The cost of the works were to be divided equally between SNCF, the local councils and the state.

Some of the proposed lines were a prologation of existing lines, while others were completely new routes.

It seems that at the moment the only lines are assured of being built, due to contractual commitments, are:

  • Phase 2 TGV-East between Metz et Strasbourg,
  • Le Mans-Rennes
  • Tours-Bordeaux
  • Nîmes-Montpellier

There remains particular uncertainty about the extension of the line from Bordeaux to the Spanish border,

Although the indications are that the Bordeaux-Toulouse route will still go ahead it may well be delayed. There is also huge controversy over this route. Charles Huyvetter, spokesman for the anti-TGV group of protesters in the Lot-et-Garonne stated that, "Without funding, it is absurd to talk of a proposed €8 billion route between Toulouse and Bordeaux, which is only being created for an elite that moves from city to city.The project does not hold water; this is madness in its purest form".

Other key routes under threat include:

  • Paris-Orléans-Clermont-Lyon
  • Marseille-Nice
  • Lyon-Turin
  • Paris-Normandy
  • Paris-Quimper
  • Rhin-Rhône
  • Poitiers - Limoges

In a recent report on the national transport plan by the French National Audit Office (Cour de Comptes) the auditors made a devastating critique of the planned new TGV lines which they considered were "not fiscally sustainable and whose financial viability and socio-economic and environmental interest had not been established”. The auditors reminded the government that 30% of the existing lines run at a loss.

Although the TGV trains traverse the country, and are used by the French State as an emblem of modernity, in fact for the most part the trains run on conventional train lines, with the speed restrictions that inevitably implies. The trains travel up to around 320 km/h on a high-speed line, which drops to around 200 km/h on the main network.

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