An haute mistake

When we first heard that the new trains French railway company SNCF ordered were too big for some of the country’s stations, we thought ‘how can a company headquartered in a city that’s synonymous with haute couture not be able to take proper measurements?’

But according to a joint statement issued by the Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais – as SNCF is also known – and Reseau Ferre de France (RFF), owner and operator of the French rail network, it was less about the correct measurements and more of an oversight.

While the trains SNCF ordered from France’s Alstom and Canadian company Bombardier were built to international standards, those responsible for placing the order forgot that many of the country’s train stations are over 100 years old and therefore not in line with current standards.

The mistake will now cost €500 million to make changes to 1,300 platforms, which is in addition to the €3 billion SNCF will pay for the trains.

In their joint statement, the companies tried to make the most of the situation with a focus on the positive: the new trains are part of a vital railway modernisation programme and they are handicap accessible.

What’s more, infrastructure always has to be adapted when new rolling stock is delivered, the companies said, as was the case in 2003 when new models were introduced to the network.

The mistake will not burden travellers since the railway company will not be raising ticket prices, nor will it affect when the trains will go into operation – they are slated to do so in 2016.

However, the president of SNCF Guillaume Pepy and his RFF counterpart Jacques Rapoport state in the very last paragraph of the statement that this oversight (defaut d’anticipation) underscores the dysfunctionality of separating the two companies.

SNCF and RFF were separated in 1997 to comply with a European Union directive aimed at liberalising European railways.

Pepy and Rapoport take the opportunity in the press statement to express their support for Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier’s railways reform bill that would re-unite the two entities.