France’s new trains too wide for old stations

France’s SNCF rail network has ordered 2,000 trains for an expanded regional network that are too wide for hundreds of station platforms, entailing costly repairs, the national operator announced on Tuesday.

France’s SNCF rail

France’s SNCF rail

A spokesman for the RFF national rail operator confirmed the error, first reported by satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné, in its Wednesday edition.

“We discovered the problem a bit late, we recognise that and we accept responsibility on that score,” Christophe Piednoel told France Info radio station, adding that the new trains would “meet the demands of the public” and that only 1,300 of 8,700 platforms needed work.

Construction work has already begun to displace equipment and widen hundreds of the platforms to accommodate the new trains, but hundreds more still need to be fixed, he said.

The mix-up arose when the RFF transmitted faulty dimensions for its train platforms to the SNCF, which was in charge of ordering trains as part of a broad modernisation effort, the Canard Enchaîné reported.

The RFF only gave the dimensions of platforms built less than 30 years ago, but most of France’s 1,200 platforms were built more than 50 years ago. Repair work has already cost 80 million euros ($110 million).

Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier blamed an “absurd rail system” for the problem, referring to changes made by a previous government in 1997.

“When you separate the rail operator [RFF] from the company [SNCF], it doesn’t work,” he told BFMTV.

Past woes

The French rail giant, which boats some of Europe’s fastest trains, has recently suffered a setback in its cross-Atlantic ventures, where a reported $2.2-billion contract between the rail company and the US state of Maryland has been threatened by its war-time links to the so-called Vichy regime.

During the occupation of France by Germany and, SNCF deported some 76,000 Jews to concentration camps in freight cars between 1942 and 1944. Only around 3,000 survived.

SNCF has said it was a “cog in the Nazi extermination machine” and that any eventual compensation should be paid by the French government.

In April, the US State Department said it hoped to be able to reach a deal quickly with France to compensate victims.

(Geo Urdu with FRANCE 24, REUTERS, AFP)

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