‘Absurd’ EU rules cause rail chaos in France

French rail operator SNCF is facing a bill of around £100 million after discovering that hundreds of platforms will need to be adjusted or partially rebuilt because new trains for its regional network are too wide.

The blunder has been followed by criticism of European Union rules demanding the separation of track and train, which French transport minister Frederic Cuvillier has described as ‘absurd’.

“When you separate the rail operator from the user, it doesn’t work,” he said.

British Rail was split up and privatised in 1994 under the same rules demanded within EU directive 91/440. The French has slowly been implementing the same market-driven dogma for years and rail infrastructure is now the responsibility of a separate company, RFF, which is the equivalent of Network Rail in Britain.

RFF is accused of giving the wrong platform dimensions to SNCF when new Régiolis Regional Express Trains from Alstom were being designed, and an RFF spokesman admitted that it had ‘discovered the problem a bit late’.

The trains, known as Trains Express Régionaux or TERs, were first unveiled last year and Alstom said that 182 of the ‘next generation’ TER trainsets had been ordered by 12 French regions.

However when asked for data about platform clearances it appears that RFF measured only relatively new platforms built since the 1980s, overlooking the fact that most stations are older and their platform profiles are tighter. Work on adjusting the platforms has begun, but it is reported that around 1,000 will need their profiles corrected.

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