SNCF Fret train service in France. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SNCF Réseau and French Senate collide over rail freight recovery plan

SNCF Fret train service in France. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The French infrastructure manager SNCF Réseau and the French Senate (upper house of the French parliament) are in an open conflict regarding the realisation of the national rail freight recovery plan. SNCF Réseau’s CEO underlined that the project as it is articulated will not succeed in its goals, with the Senate’s president accusing him of failure admission.

This confrontation took place a few days ago during the French Senate’s Regional Planning and Sustainable Development Committee meeting. The two parties have not been getting along for a pretty long period since the Senate accuses SNCF Réseau of a lack of ambition in realising the goals of the national rail freight recovery plan, which in practice means doubling rail freight’s share from 9 per cent to 18 per cent by 2030.

On the other hand, the French infrastructure manager complains that the funds allocated for this project are insufficient and could only help by increasing rail freight’s share “by 2 per cent each year until 2025”.

Lack of ambition or support?

Both sides launch allegations against each other. Since early January, the parliamentary body has been ringing the bell to SNCF Réseau as a reminder to stick to the country’s Climate and Resilience plan for rail freight. The Senate was worried that the infrastructure manager could not meet the planned objectives creating a gap between the expectations and the final result.

In a consequent meeting between the two parties to assess the situation, tension escalated. SNCF Réseau’s CEO Luc Lallemand highlighted that his company would do its best to realise the plan’s goals despite the poor provision of resources. “We are going to content ourselves with the means that are allocated,” he said. On top of that, he stressed that the plan’s goals are not so realistic, implying that SNCF should not be the one to blame in the case of failure. “It is not a contract which organises the doubling of traffic to achieve the objectives of the Green Deal. It displays an ambition of +2 per cent per year until 2025,” said Lallemand.

In response to Lallemand’s comments, Jean-François Longeot, the Regional Planning and Sustainable Development Committee chairman, said that they constitute a pure “admission of failure for rail transport that we cannot accept”.

Pressure pays off

Nevertheless, the committee decided not to repeat past mistakes and reassess the agreement with SNCF Réseau before it takes the wrong turn. “Concerned about the discrepancy between the ambitious speeches on the development of rail transport and the content of the draft contract, the committee considers that the latter must be reviewed to assess the remarks made by the various stakeholders and, in particular, the regulator,” concluded the committee.

Despite the conflict with SNCF Réseau, the French Senate, in the end, decided to take into account the company’s remarks, which were also accompanied by some critical comments from Alliance 4F (Fret Ferroviaire Français du Futur), which asked 10 billion euros instead of 1 billion euros funding to stimulate rail freight sector until 2030, also implying that funding is not enough to realise the national recovery plan.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

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

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