News - November 2014


Calais - Dunkirk Re-opening

Freight services have commenced running over the Calais - Dunkirk line in anticipation of the re-introduction of passenger services on December 15th. Since complete closure over 18 months ago the predominately single track line has been completely rebuilt and electrified, including new signalling. Platforms and station forecourts have also been modernised. At Gravelines the double track section that previously finished between the station and the lifting bridge has been extended over the bridge for one kilometre towards Calais.

Passenger services will commence on Monday 15th December. Mondays to Fridays there will be 7 trains from Dunkerque at 06:36, 07:09, 08:09, 12:36, 17:08, 17:36, 19:09. From Calais there will be 8 trains at 05:41, 07:12, 07:41, 08:12, 12:41, 16:12, 17:41, 18:12. On Saturdays there are three trains from Dunkerque at 06:36, 12:36 and 13:36.  From Calais two trains at 06:40 and 12:41. There will be no Sunday service.

The return of the rail service is not without controversy. For the last two years rail services have been replaced by a regional bcd (Boulogne - Calais - Dunkirk) bus service with eleven services each way on weekdays. This will be discontinued at the end of 2014. The bus calls at the University of the Littoral that has a major campus in Calais and has organised its tuition courses around the bus timetable. The last buses from the University to Dunkirk are at 18:04, 18:35 and 19:04. From Dec 15th  the last train to Dunkirk will be at 18:12 from Calais Ville which is 15 -20 mins away. There was a comité de ligne on June 21st 2014 but not everyone was informed about that meeting, in particular the University. The sparse Saturday and no Sunday service have also been poorly received.  The NPdC Region says that the new train service is the best it can afford at present and will be reviewed at the end of 2015.

Tramway & Light Rail Update

A Le Mans Setram  Alstom Citadis takes line T2 at St Martin the junction with line T1 in the south of the city. Photo Graham Skinner.

At the end of August 2014, three new tram lines were opened in France. Here are the details.

Besançon, situated in the valley of the Doubs river, is capital of Franche-Compté Region. It is overlooked by a Vauban castle, perched on a rocky outcrop. The city has a population of 116 000 (177 000 including the suburbs). The first tramway network operated from 1897 – 1952.

Sixty two years later, on  August 30th 2014, a second, modern tramway was opened after 3 years of construction. It is 14.5 km long (with 31 stops) in the form of a “Y”. There are two branches at the eastern end, one for the SNCF station (Besançon Viotte). The tram line crosses the river four times. There are 19 trams supplied by Spanish constructor CAF. Each Urbos3 tram is 24 m long and 2.40 m wide, in light blue and black livery. Each unit is identified with a picture of a local personality. Victor Hugo is the most well known. The capacity is 132 with 38 seated. These very short 3 segment trams are designed to receive 2 additional segments for extension to a length of 36 m in the event that traffic excedes 40 000 passengers a day.

The service interval is 7 ½ minutes on the main trunk section, and 15 minutes on each of the  two branches. The service is reduced in the evenings and at week ends.

Besançon is the 22nd urban area in France with a modern tramway system (The cities of Clermont-Ferrand, Caen and Nancy, which have guided rubber-tyred hybrid systems, are excluded from the calculation).

Aubagne is a small town with a population of 45 000 in the département of the Bouches du Rhône, near Marseille. A suburban area of villages around Aubagne forms an agglomération of 100 000.

Originally, Aubagne was connected to the Marseille tramway, but in 1958 that tram line became a bus line.

In 2009, the mairie of Aubagne proposed to build a tramway in two stages. The first half would be 7 km starting from the SNCF station, to open in 2014. The second half was to follow in 2019. An order for 8 short trams was placed with Alstom.  However, the local elections of April 2014 resulted in a change of mayor, and the new administration cancelled the project. However, the line of 2.2 km, that had been constructed already, was opened at the end of August 2014.  To operate this very short line, the town has received all eight new trams that were ordered and which could not be cancelled.

The trams are a new model in the Alstom Citadis family: Citadis Compact. Alstom produced this model to compete with CAF. The unit is 22 m long and 2.40 m wide. The capacity is 125 with 35 seated. The livery of the Aubagne trams consists of brightly coloured cartoon faces, a strange choice.

The future of this aborted project seems likely to be a connexion to the Marseille tramway for which the Citadis Compact trams are compatible, with or without the cartoon faces! In 2016, the urban areas of Aix-en-Provence, Aubagne and Marseille will become a single métropole.

Le Mans already has a successful tramway that was opened in 2007. It is a network 15 km long in the form of a “Y”. It is operated with 26 Alstom Citadis 302 trams. At the end of August 2014, a third branch of 3.4 km was opened from the centre ville past the cathedral. The tram service has been re-organised into two lines, T1 and T2 both of which pass through the town centre.  Eight new Citadis 302 trams have joined the fleet.

The new extension has boosted passenger numbers by 10% in the first month.

DB Schenker 66045 crosses the lifting bridge at Gravelines on 15th October hauling the 10:50 Caffiers - Dunkirk Grande Synthe with limestone for the Arcelor Mittal steelworks at Dunkirk. The locomotive is travelling over the lifting section where the overhead catenary wire has been replaced by a solid conductor rail.

TET (Intercités) contract extended for further year

The French government has announced that the management agreement with SNCF to control the predominantly locomotive services operated by SNCF’s Intercités sector will be extended until the end of 2015. The T E T(Trains d'équilibre du Territoire) agreement (created in 2010) makes the French State responsible for managing the Intercity train services and covering the deficit. The current agreement expires at the end of 2014.

Under the original TET agreement, SNCF was to have increased both volume and quality of services. Instead, services have been cut back with no reduction in costs. In the three years ending in December 2013, it is reported that services fell 10% with the annual deficit increasing from €210 million to €312 million. Proposals that the majority of services be transferred to TER with SNCF retaining only the most profitable IC routes have been strongly rejected by the Regions in the past. With  SNCF being re-structured from January 2015 a parliamentary commission will be established to look at the future of T E T services and their relationship to TGV and TER services in a period of severe budget constraints

Regio 2n approved for commercial use

On the 2nd October SNCF received authorisation from the French Public Establishment of Railway Safety (EPSF) for the commercial operation of Bombardier’s Regio 2N in single units. This essential step will allow for the progressive deployment of the first Regio 2N vehicles in the Aquitaine, Brittany, Centre, Nord-Pas de Calais, Provence-Alpes-Côte d' Azur and Rhône-Alpes regions from November, although driver training will need to take place before passenger operations commence. Approval for operation in multiple is expected in early 2015.

Nine French regions have ordered a total of 159 Regio 2N units under a contract signed in 2010 with SNCF on behalf of the regions, for a maximum of 860 units. Orders per region are as follows: Aquitaine: 24, Centre: 14, Brittany: 17, Nord-Pas de Calais: 18, Provence- Alpes-Côte d' Azur: 16, Rhone -Alpes: 40, Picardy: 7, Pays-de-la-Loire: 13, Midi-Pyrenees: 10. Photo Bombardier.

SNCF is reported to be in negotiation with both Bombardier and Alstom over penalties for delays to the Regio 2N and  the 184 Regiolis units on order. Delays are in the region of a year put down to problems in the industrial supply chain. Compensation in the range of €100-150 million is being sought  that will be distributed to the Regions depending on the size of the order and extent of delay. Compensation may come in the form of discount on future orders and extended warranties to avoid damaging the companies.

Fret 67400 return to Auvergne

67443 waits to leave La Rochelle with the 07:30 Quimper - Bordeaux service, one of the routes that Intercités would like to pass to the regions to operate

Pau - Canfranc to re-open?

The first step towards opening the cross-border route from Pau to Canfranc took place at the end of September when The President of the Regional Conseil for Aquitaine and RFF signed an agreement to restore the Oloron - Bedous section. The route through the Pyrennes has been closed since an accident at Escot in 1970. An appeal against the opening of the line was rejected by the Administrative Tribunal in Toulouse in June.

Work this year will consist of cutting back vegetation and preparing for major work by RFF in 2015 to restore 25 km of track, including re-decking 12 of the lines 31 bridges and closing six of the 27 crossings. The work is estimated to cost €102 million. Passenger services between Oloron and Bedous should be restored in March 2016.

Whether services will be restored through to Canfranc and its grand International Station remains to be seen. Four party talks are planned between France, Spain and the Aragon and Aquitane regional authorities to see whether there is a market to justify further investment in the current economic climate.


Avignon - Carpentras opening delayed

The re-opening of the Avignon - Carpentras line scheduled to take place on the 14th December has been deferred until the end of April 2015. SNCF and RFF say the delay has been caused by the need to deploy skill technical staff on checking the existing network following the Brétigny-sur-Orge and Denguin accidents.

Local politicians, who have provided the funding for the line, are angered both by the delay in re-opening the line and the late announcement, given that SNCF and RFF must have been aware of the situation for some time.

Troyes Electrification Suspended

Plans to electrify The Paris - Troyes - Belfort line from Gretz-Armainvilliers to Troyes, scheduled for completion in 2017, have been suspended since the summer. Plans are on hold as financing cannot be agreed pending introduction of the new French regions. The current Champagne-Ardennes Region will cease to exist in 2016 and its successor is not yet clear.

Legislation is currently in process but the new regional structure remains subject to amendment. The original proposal was that Picardie and Champagne-Ardennes would merge. The latest proposal looks as if Picardie will merge with Nord-Pas de Calais and Champagnes-Ardennes merge with Alsace-Lorraine creating a single region stretching from Mulhouse to Reims.

Flooding Suspends Services

Heavy rain in Spain and Southern France during October led to line closures. Cross border services between Barcelona and Paris, Lyon, Toulouse and Marseille were suspended at the beginning of the month when heavy rain caused the River Guell to burst its banks and flood the 7km tunnel under Girona. A 1.8km section of the tunnel was submerged requiring the extraction of 40,000 m3 of flood water.

More heavy rain in Gard over the 10th-11th October closed the Ales - Nimes section of the Cevenol line for ten days. The storms completely flooded the tracks at Mende and La Bestide, sweeping away embankments at Villefort and Ales; while at Génolhac a mudslide washed several hundred feet of ballast onto a road.

Mont d’Ambin trial bore funding agreed

A funding agreement was made in Paris during October to construct a 9km trial bore that will eventually form part of the Mont d’Ambin base tunnel on the proposed Lyon - Turin high speed rail line. The Agreement between  The French Transport Ministry, transport infrastructure funding agency AFITF, RFF and TLF (Lyon-Turin Ferroviaire) is worth €106 million and will enable work to start in early 2015.

The Mont d’Ambin base tunnel is the major engineering work on the proposed Lyon - Turin high speed line and will run for 57km from St Jean de Maurienne to Suza in Italy at an estimated cost of €10 billion.  The trial bore will take place at St Martin de la Porte just north of St Jean de Maurienne, access shafts totalling 9km have already been built.

There is much scepticism in both France and Italy over the need for the TLF project based on both the cost and the environmental impact in the Suza valley. Financial justification is based on significant growth in both freight and passenger traffic between France and Italy that has been declining in recent years.

Montréjeau-Luchon to be suspended

RFF and SNCF have announced that traffic over the 35km branch from Montréjeau to Luchon will be suspended from November 18th due to the poor condition of the track. The move was forecast in January of this year by rail user group FNUAT who launched a petition to modernise the line at an estimated €35 million. The last major track-work on the branch took place in 1953. Since then the line speed has been reduced from 90km/h to 50km/h increasing journey times from 35 to 50 minutes. The principal train in recent years has been the through sleeper to Paris via Toulouse.

The inauguration of floodlighting to the exterior of Gare du Nord took place on October 16th highlighting the historic facade. The illumination consists of a warm white veil over the front facade with additional lighting to enhance the relief and depth. To avoid interfering with the surrounding architecture the additional lighting has been mounted in the existing street lamps in Rue de Dunkerque. Photo Antoine Debievre/SNCF

Public consultation on Chartres - Orleans re-opening

Public consultation is taking place on restoring passenger services between Chartres and Orleans that were withdrawn in 1942. In December passenger services will be restored to the northern section of the route between Chartres and Voves, on the secondary line from Paris to Tours via Chateaudun following investment of €70 million. A further €250 million would be needed to complete the 75km route to Orleans.

The proposal includes closing 50 of the 61 road crossings over the line, a few would be replaced by new bridges but many would require motorists to make a detour.

Since early June there has been a revival of Class  BB 67400 freight activity at Clermont Ferrand. Three Class 67400s have been based at Clermont Ferrand to operate the double-headed steel trains to Saint-Chély-d'Apcher, and Volvic water trains from La Bourboule near Le Mont Dore. This is due to Class BB75000/ BB75400 damaging the track causing  the chairs with only three bolt fixings to spread on the wooden sleepers.

The steel train to the Arcelor Mittal plant at Saint-Chély normally operates on Mondays, Tuesday and Thursdays, The train splits at  Neussargues with the locomotives returning to collect the second portion later in the day before returning to Clermont Ferrand with the empties in the evening. The Mont Dore water train operates on Wednesdays and Fridays. At Laqueuille the train splits and works to La Bourboule in two portions, before returning to Clermont Ferrand with the loaded train. The contract for the Saint-Chély steel train is up for renewal in December with traffic rumoured to being transferred to road or another operator. Photo. On 2nd October 67530/67579 approach Saint-Chély. Duncan Mcevoy

In the days when class BB 8500 operated on the line, 8642 waits to depart from Luchon with a service to Montréjeau. The stock of the overnight train to Paris with 8639 at its heads waits on the adjoining platform.

SNCF launches real-time maps

SNCF has launched a real time train map at The service is provided by HAFAS live maps using data from GPS  and trackside equipment. Initial results appear to be mixed depending on the operating systems of individual computers and devices. A mobile app will be available soon. Another option that appears to use similar feeds is available at

With thanks to Duncan Mcevoy & Michel Costes.

© Peter Lovell & Graham Skinner.

The SNCF Society 2014

Material and topical photographs are always welcome. Please forward to:

In the October News we reported that Bréauté to Fécamp was to close for two years from 25th October due to poor condition of the track. On the 19th October one of the final trains departs from Fécamp formed of two X73500 units. Michel Costes