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RFF’s impressive rail network modernisation plan

Posted: 4 December 2013 | Matthieu Chabanel, Deputy General Director, Marketing and Planning, RFF | 1 comment

On 15 October 2012, Réseau Ferré de France (RFF) was ordered by Transport Minister, Frédéric Cuvillier, to table proposals to deliver major rail network modernisation (GPMR). Delivered to the Minister on 19 September 2013, the plan proposed is consistent with efforts to create a shared, long-term vision for rail transportation. According to the plan, €15 billion are to be earmarked for the network – in other words €2.5 billion per year – while a further €2.3 billion are to be specifically devoted to maintenance. But modernisation plans are not an exercise in allocating funds. The aim of the proposals set out in the GPMR is to lay the foundations for a new methodical approach to the network, where user requirements are central to the works scheduling rationale. The plan is, therefore, inextricably linked with the creation of a fully-fledged infrastructure manager and an integrated industrial public-sector group. The purpose of this article is to highlight the key principles that will shape network renewal and modernisation in the coming years.
New approach to network maintenance and modernisation – key principles

Ambitions for the French rail network over the next 10 years are running high, with the dual target being to put the network back on track on a sound and lasting basis, both financially and technically, and to rise to a multiplicity of overarching challenges (safety, traffic regularity and growth, simplifying train usage, shift towards renewable energies, etc.). To cater to these challenges, a new approach to network maintenance and modernisation is a ‘must’.

On 15 October 2012, Réseau Ferré de France (RFF) was ordered by Transport Minister, Frédéric Cuvillier, to table proposals to deliver major rail network modernisation (GPMR). Delivered to the Minister on 19 September 2013, the plan proposed is consistent with efforts to create a shared, long-term vision for rail transportation. According to the plan, €15 billion are to be earmarked for the network – in other words €2.5 billion per year – while a further €2.3 billion are to be specifically devoted to maintenance. But modernisation plans are not an exercise in allocating funds. The aim of the proposals set out in the GPMR is to lay the foundations for a new methodical approach to the network, where user requirements are central to the works scheduling rationale. The plan is, therefore, inextricably linked with the creation of a fully-fledged infrastructure manager and an integrated industrial public-sector group. The purpose of this article is to highlight the key principles that will shape network renewal and modernisation in the coming years. New approach to network maintenance and modernisation – key principlesAmbitions for the French rail network over the next 10 years are running high, with the dual target being to put the network back on track on a sound and lasting basis, both financially and technically, and to rise to a multiplicity of overarching challenges (safety, traffic regularity and growth, simplifying train usage, shift towards renewable energies, etc.). To cater to these challenges, a new approach to network maintenance and modernisation is a ‘must’.

On 15 October 2012, Réseau Ferré de France (RFF) was ordered by Transport Minister, Frédéric Cuvillier, to table proposals to deliver major rail network modernisation (GPMR). Delivered to the Minister on 19 September 2013, the plan proposed is consistent with efforts to create a shared, long-term vision for rail transportation. According to the plan, €15 billion are to be earmarked for the network – in other words €2.5 billion per year – while a further €2.3 billion are to be specifically devoted to maintenance. But modernisation plans are not an exercise in allocating funds. The aim of the proposals set out in the GPMR is to lay the foundations for a new methodical approach to the network, where user requirements are central to the works scheduling rationale. The plan is, therefore, inextricably linked with the creation of a fully-fledged infrastructure manager and an integrated industrial public-sector group. The purpose of this article is to highlight the key principles that will shape network renewal and modernisation in the coming years.

New approach to network maintenance and modernisation – key principles

Ambitions for the French rail network over the next 10 years are running high, with the dual target being to put the network back on track on a sound and lasting basis, both financially and technically, and to rise to a multiplicity of overarching challenges (safety, traffic regularity and growth, simplifying train usage, shift towards renewable energies, etc.). To cater to these challenges, a new approach to network maintenance and modernisation is a ‘must’.

An end to piecemeal renewals

Underinvestment in the existing network, combined with some of the unfortunate effects of the administrative and budgetary demarca – tion between renewal and maintenance, have spawned a surfeit of small scattered maintenance or renewal operations, at inevitably high unit costs. The upshot is a network with a wide variety of different components and, by extension, in less than optimum condition. To modernise the network, it is therefore necessary to begin by eliminating these differences through thrusting renewal policies geared towards re-establishing common infrastructure standards and bringing network condition back under control. Through a burst of concentrated effort, it should be possible to catch up with the maintenance backlog before resuming a normal working rhythm, while continuing to give renewal operations pride of place. The creation of a fully-fledged infra – structure manager will simplify this process.

A move towards bespoke maintenance

Parts of the network are already managed differently – high-speed lines, for example, are not treated in the same way as conventional lines. But current practices make insufficient allowance for the particular features of the various different types of line with the result that maintenance is less than optimal. Some little-used lines are maintained to a relatively over-high standard while there are a number of unacceptable defects on certain heavilytrafficked lines. Ideally, each line and each site should be considered individually with regard to:
● Reliability requirements and target availability levels
● The acceptability of incidents and their repercussions
● The split of engineering capacity (maintenance windows, works possessions, line closures, etc.) between revenue service and maintenance requirements
● The economic viability of line maintenance.

Towards a route-based rationale

Heavy renewal operations have a major impact on network availability. It is therefore vital that maintenance should be industrially and consistently organised over entire lines or corridors, and not in piecemeal fashion from one administrative area to the next. There should also be coordination with infrastructure managers in neighbouring countries, in particular over European corridors. Equally important, all maintenance operations should fit in with a long-term rationale (at least 10 years).

Developing a common medium-to-long-term vision for the network

Time in the railway world is long. This explains why it is so vital for the network manager to have a strategic roadmap designed in relation to several different time horizons: short-term, over the six years up to 2020, with the pursuit of projects already in-hand and the start of a number of new developments; medium-term, up to about 2025, which is when today’s new and emerging projects should come to fruition; long-term, in other words the final goal towards which all steps taken in the shorter-term should ultimately converge.

New methods involving all stakeholders

The strategic roadmap will contribute towards overcoming the financial disequilibrium prevailing on the network by ensuring that common targets are set for infrastructure (nature, performance, etc.) and agreement reached over the requisite medium and longterm resources.

A common roadmap is also vital for the transport organising authorities and the railway undertakings, which need to have a clear forward vision and firm, to make realistic decisions on which to plan their own investments. The roadmap will also need to take their existing planning documents into account.

This strategic vision of the network and network policy should be established with the State, the transport organising authorities, the railway undertakings (not least SNCF), and shipper and passenger representatives. It will be the infrastructure manager’s responsibility to assist the public authorities in consolidating this vision, thereby enabling the State to produce a coherent network strategy by the end of 2014.

Five-point programme

A five-point programme for designing tomorrow’s service portfolio consists of:

1. Establishing capacity requirements at regional level

This stage consists of using travel requirements at each of the different time horizons to establish a clear picture of what future transport services (passenger and freight) should be and check their compatibility with infrastructure. Should the two be incompatible, the measures to be taken (operational and/or infrastructure adaptations, etc.) will need to be examined.

2. Ensuring the consistency at national level of the requirements identified

The approaches adopted in the regions must be consistent with a national vision based on the work of the Mobility 21 Commission and the decisions taken as a result. A national approach of this nature will, of necessity, involve ensuring that a corridor passing through two regions receives similar treatment on either side of the administrative divide.

3. Fixing performance requirements for individual lines or sites

For each performance criterion, it will be necessary to set local targets as a basis for planning and undertaking maintenance operations. To achieve optimum results, requirements will be subject to close scrutiny and resources tailored to actual needs.

4. Establishing maintenance requirements over uniform geographical areas

In the face of capacity constraints, priority has to be given to those renewal operations required to bring infrastructure back up to standard. In heavily-trafficked areas, in particular, works possessions are in short supply with the result that engineering operations can only take place at night over periods lasting, at most, five to six hours at a stretch. This may result in trade-offs, with development plans put on hold until services on the existing network have been brought back up to standard.

5. And what of the future of lightly-trafficked lines?

For those parts of the network handling small or medium volumes of traffic and essentially used by TER trains, discussions will have to be held between the infrastructure manager and the regions to arrive at solutions combining allowance for the economic possibilities of the infrastructure manager with catering satisfactorily to mobility needs.

Conclusion: a long-term action plan

The modernisation plan sets the foundations for discussions with all stakeholders so that, together, those concerned can produce ambitious and challenging proposals for the network. Fuller details should be available by the end of 2013, after which the plan will be cascaded down to the regions. Action should start at once on a number of pilot worksites not requiring major investment that can act as test beds for the new methods and procedures proposed in the GPMR.

For the men and women working on the railway, the GPMR now to be finalised and enforced, and by extension railway reform as a whole, heralds not only new opportunities but also major change. The success of the project will depend, to a large extent, on the support given them in negotiating this change.

 

Biography

Matthieu Chabanel has held different posts during his career including positions within governmental bodies, most notably being appointed in April 2010 as Technical Advisor for Transport and Infrastructure Planning in the Prime Minister’s Office. Matthieu joined RFF in April 2012 as Deputy Director General in charge of the Commercial Centre.

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One response to “RFF’s impressive rail network modernisation plan”

  1. Attila Lüttmerding says:

    Dear Mr Chabanel,
    we kindly would like to present you our new report about “Level of service on passenger railway connections between European metropolises” published as the “Reports of the Transport and Spatial Planning Institute. Vol. 15 – ISSN 1868-8586 (IVR Band 15)” as download under
    http://www.fh-erfurt.de/fhe/en/transport-and-spatial-planning-institute/downloads/reports-of-the-transport-and-spatial-planning-institute/
    or directly under
    http://www.fh-erfurt.de/fhe/fileadmin/Material/Institut/Verkehr_Raum/Download/IVR_Berichte/IVR_Bericht_LevelOfServices_v8.pdf

    Hope you find it interesting. Any thoughts or comments are welcome. Feel free to forward it to anyone who might be interested in.

    Thanks a lot

    Best regards

    Attila Lüttmerding

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