French rail and inland shipping sectors merge networks

An interesting development from France sees the rail freight and inland shipping sectors establishing a rail-river alliance. SNCF Réseau and VNF want to work together and strengthen operational complementarity between rail and river networks to enhance the modal shift.

The two partners had come to a cooperation agreement since January 2021, and now they have agreed on a joint roadmap with clear targets that they want to realise in the Hauts-de-France region in northeast France. SNCF Réseau is France’s rail infrastructure manager, while VNF is the navigation authority responsible for the management of the majority of France’s inland waterways network.

It’s all about synergy

SNCF and VNF have a clear focus: they aim to coordinate river and rail traffic flows and create a concerted commercial offer for logistics operators and their customers. Their working framework focuses on the next two years, where they want to set up a team that will work together with shippers.

Working with the shippers will allow the two parties to identify their needs and, thus, create transport offers that will combine the rail and waterway networks and attract as much traffic as possible from roads. Moreover, SNCF and VNF will work together on joint projects along the Seine-Escaut axis to enhance intermodality.

Key cooperation points

The two partners have already identified the specific steps that they will take in the context of their cooperation:

  • Firstly, they want to identify the complementarities between their rail and river networks in the Hauts-de-France region and promote combined rail/water transport solutions to shippers and logistics providers.
  • Moreover, they want to be able to use each other’s networks as alternatives. Hence, when construction takes place on rail infrastructure, customers will be able to use waterways efficiently.
  • Finally, SNCF and VNF aim to enhance all their actions by creating a digital tool that will allow the development of interconnections between the different networks.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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