The French State abandons the operation of night trains

The French Secretary of State for Transport, Alain Vidalies, has just completed an interim review of the latest reorganisation of inter-regional passenger trains (TET) for which he is responsible. The operating deficit of these services has increased from €200 million in 2010* to €400 million in 2015. The report drafted by Socialist Party MP Philippe Duron concluded that urgent action was needed in view of the low occupancy rate (35%), a cost of €33.5 per train/kilometre, compared to €20 for regional express trains (TER) and dilapidated rolling stock. The Duron report was particularly pessimistic about night trains, which account for 3% of intercity services but 25% of their deficit. In the report’s conclusions, he advocated axing some services, transferring others to express coaches and outsourcing services to a private operator.

The State ceases operation of night trains

At his press conference on February 19, 2016, Secretary of State, Alain Vidalies, requested the Transport Contracting Authority, under the supervision of the State, to call for expressions of interest from rail operators to determine the conditions for the operation of night trains. “Rail operators may propose innovative operating arrangements that cover their costs”, which does not rule out that “other branches of government”, apart from the State, “may cover the deficit”.

AFRA’s rail operator members will look carefully at the proposals put forward by the Transport Contracting Authority. They will focus particularly on the operating conditions outlined for the future operators: capacity of each service to cover its costs, access to rolling stock, capacity to industrialise production, pay and conditions for employees, etc.

Contrary to the Duron report’s recommendations however, AFRA notes that the two regional development night train services, Paris-Briançon and Paris-Rodez-Latour de Carol, do not appear to be included in the call for expressions of interest.

The rail operators shall await further details as well as the scope of the call for expressions of interest for night train services before taking a firmer position. However, AFRA members consider that these initial proposals are unlikely to reassure manufacturers and operators about the government’s ability to give fresh impetus to rail transport in France in the face of competition from express coach services.

AFRA reminds the French government that in its latest opinion poll on rail transport in France, ELABE found in November 2015 that 78% of the French population were keen to see new operators running regional passenger services. As other countries like Germany, the U.K and Italy, in which these services were liberalised many years ago, have shown, the French have everything to gain from such a move.

In view of the challenges of reviving regional transport by rail in France, the Secretary of State’s proposals on transferring night train services to alternative rail operators or the regions are tantamount to transferring these services to local authorities, as central government is no longer able to finance them.

Founded in March 2009, AFRA (l’Association Française du Rail) brings together railway sector stakeholders, which consider that the French market for freight and passenger transport will only be able to develop fully within an open, competitive and regulated market.

AFRA currently has the following rail companies among its members in passenger transport: Transdev, CFTA, Trenitalia Euro Cargo Rail/Arriva.

Contact: Jacques Malecot, Chief Executive of AFRA +(33)6 27 22 83 44, jacques.malecot@assorail.fr