Mind the Gap: French Rail Company in Hot Water After Costly Train Design Error

Over 1,300 Rail Platforms to be Trimmed After $69 Million Mistake

By Daniel Berg on 21 May 2014
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Passengers boarding an SNCF train to Paris and Marseille

Boarding an SNCF TGV  train to Paris and Marseille

The French national railway company SNCF admitted that it made a significant miscalculation with a recent order of 2,000 trains. The new TER trains are wider than previous models and cannot fit into some regional train stations designed for older, narrow-bodied trains, a measurement error that has cost the company €50 million ($68.3 million) to date.

SNCF attributed the error to a miscommunication between their representatives and RFF, the French national rail operator. The BBC reported that, while reconstruction work has begun on the platforms, the blunder would likely cause further costs along the way. Approximately 1,300 of France’s 8,700 railway platforms must now be refitted to allow for the wider trains.

RFF told the BBC it might have “discovered the problem a bit late,” but the apology has done little to offset the embarrassment of the incident. French transport minister Frederic Cuvillier said an “absurd trains system” was at fault, and that such problems are more likely to arise when the rail operator and train company are two separate entities.   The two companies were separated over two decades ago.

The costly mistake also drew censure from other prominent French policy makers, including environment and energy minister Ségolène Royal, and National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

SNCF was formed in 1938 with the nationalization of France’s five railway companies.  It operates the vast majority of the country’s railway system today, including the high-speed TGV or Train à Grande Vitesse.  The company provides services for passengers and freight and employs over 180,000 people in 120 countries.

SNCF’s network operates over 14,000 trains daily.  Its network is comprised of 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) of route including 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) of high-speed lines.  Roughly 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) are electrified.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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