100 billion for rail in France until 2042, but is it enough?
France’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne claimed that the French government is ready to allocate 100 billion euros for the execution of the plan presented by the Infrastructure Orientation Council (COI). The plan analyses the necessary investments for mobility in France between 2023 and 2042, with a strong emphasis on rail.
Despite versions of it being leaked by various France media outlets, the official COI report was published on 24 February. In the COI report, SNCF Reseau, the French infrastructure manager (IM), estimated a total cost of 138 billion euros to double railway traffic for both freight and passengers. The document mentions that the French IM finds it necessary to increase yearly investment by one billion euros every year.
Bringing the yearly public investments up to between 3,5 and 4,2 billion euros would, according to the COI document, help France to reach the level of Germany. With 4,2 billion every year, SNCF Reseau claimed it can rejuvenate the tracks and improve their maintainability and reduce switches and crossings. Moreover, the French IM said it could anticipate the investments for the so-called Ouvrages d’Art (OAs) built in the first half of the 1900s to reach the end of their life by 2050. OAs are large constructions that can include bridges, tunnels, quays, and port structures.
Three railways dedicated to freight trains
The document published by the COI stressed that “there is no economically viable technical alternative to the electrification of continuous lines for heavy and long-distance freight trains”. The total or partial electrification of additional lines could be financed through the State-Region planning contract, according to the COI. The document also proposed three main rail lines only dedicated to freight trains and mixed traffic over long distances.
For this purpose, SNCF Reseau has identified three railways for over 900 kilometres that would be dedicated to rail freight. One of these railways is the one connecting Chagny with Nevers, in the heart of France. The second one runs from Rang-du-Fliers to Chalindrey, crossing the northwest of the country. The third line identified by the French IM is the Rouen-Le Mans-Tours, connecting the port of Rouen to the Loire river.
Moreover, the COI pointed out the importance of investments in capillary freight lines. According to them, the necessary amount for these lines to be 195 million euros per year. On the other hand, only 25 million euros are currently invested for capillary freight lines every year. The COI also said that more financing is needed to increase capacity for heavy and long trains on the Atlantic Corridor, the Bettembourg-Perpignan line, and the north-east artery.
The response from the industry: more attention to rail freight infrastructure
The French rail freight association Fret Ferroviaire Francais du Future (4F) has shared its two cents on the plan presented by the COI. 4F stated that it regrets “the lack of distinction between infrastructure expenditure dedicated to the rail system as a whole, which in fact primarily serves passenger traffic, and that specific to freight”. These investments should be more specific when it comes to masrshaling yards, multimodal platforms, capillary lines, and the adaptation for the P400 profile.
The alliance also claimed that more intermodal terminals are needed: four more by 2027 and 15 more by 2030. 4F also highlighted the absence of clear plans for important infrastructural projects such as the Turin-Lyon railway line. The association estimated that 3,5 billion euros would be enough for a plan dedicated to rail freight. In addition, 4F brought up the issue of how the COI plan will be financed, since they claimed that only 25 per cent of the funds are currently covered. 4F concluded by listing four areas where investments for rail freight in France should be focused.
First, investing in guages with P400 profile to allow the transport of semi-trailers. The second area of investment proposed by the alliance concerns combined transport terminals, which offer more flexibility to shippers. Yard and service tracks were the third element identified by 4F that needs financing. Finally, allocate more funding for capillaries lines so that rail would be accessible for as many shippers as possible. To further the discussion, 4F has set a meeting with SNCF Reseau and the Directorate-General for Infrastructure, Transport and the Sea for 6 March.