Mind le gap! France spends $15 billion on trains that are too fat for 1,300 station platforms

The SNCF blamed the blunder on the decision to split the state-owned network in two in 1997

paris

The country that brought the TGV high-speed train to Europe has accidentally created another first – the TFT, or the Too Fat Train.

More than 2,000 new regional trains ordered by the French state railways company, the SNCF, are too wide to enter the old, rural stations that they are supposed to serve. To the indignation of national and local politicians, 1,300 platforms have to be rebuilt at a cost of at least €50m.

“It’s like ordering a big, new car without checking the width of your garage,” said Emmanuel Grondein, of the SUD-Rail trade union.

As rage and amusement competed on French social networks, the two state-owned companies involved sought to shrug off the blunder and also to turn it to their advantage.

VIDEO: France's costly train blunder

It was “perfectly normal” for 19th-century stations to be modified to take new generations of trains, said Jacques Rapoport, head of Réseau Ferré de France, the organisation that owns the French rail network. Many stations had also been rebuilt to take France’s very successful high-speed TGV trains from the early 1980s, he pointed out.

“Admittedly”, he said, the excessive width of the new regional express trains had been “discovered a little late”. All the same, the cost of rebuilding platforms and increasing the distance between tracks would be “only” €50m, around 1 per cent of RFF’s annual budget for modernisation and repairs.

The SNCF – which runs almost all of the trains on RFF’s tracks – blamed the blunder on the decision to split the state-owned network in two in 1997. The RFF (the equivalent of Network Rail in Britain) had failed to point out that many of its older stations still had platforms incompatible with the new trains ordered from Alstom and Bombardier at a cost of €15bn.

As if by coincidence, a draft law is due to come before the French parliament next month to merge, or re-merge, the two state-owned bodies from next year. Both the SNCF and RFF support the plan but it faces stiff opposition from the French right.

Could the story have been leaked to the investigative weekly newspaper, Le Canard Enchainé, to help make the case?

The SNCF said that the mistake would have no effect on fares. Nor would it delay the introduction of the smart new Regiolis and Regio 2N trains. More than 300 platforms had already been cut back.

The RFF said the cost would come from its existing budget. Since part of the cost of the network is borne by France’s regional governments, a row over who pays is nonetheless raging.

Alain Rousset, of the Association of French Regions, said: “We will refuse to pay an extra centime for these repairs. We can’t be at once the financiers of the network and lambs to be fleeced.”

Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, leader of the Socialist party, called on Mr Rapoport of the RFF and Guillaume Pépy, head of the SNCF, to resign.

Both have been called to face interrogation “as soon as possible” by the National Assembly’s environment committee. A case of two “fat controllers” who failed to spot that their trains were oversized?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral