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The national rail network regeneration plan

Posted: 28 November 2006 | | No comments yet

During a visit on 22 May 2006 to the largest RFF track regeneration project near Orleans, Dominique Perben, Minister of Transport, Public Works, Tourism and Maritime Affairs unveiled the French rail network regeneration plan for the 2007-2010 period.

During a visit on 22 May 2006 to the largest RFF track regeneration project near Orleans, Dominique Perben, Minister of Transport, Public Works, Tourism and Maritime Affairs unveiled the French rail network regeneration plan for the 2007-2010 period.

During a visit on 22 May 2006 to the largest RFF track regeneration project near Orleans, Dominique Perben, Minister of Transport, Public Works, Tourism and Maritime Affairs unveiled the French rail network regeneration plan for the 2007-2010 period.

In September 2005, Professor Rivier of Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, presented to the RFF Chairman and SNCF Chairman an audit report on the state of the French rail network which had been commissioned from him. The report itself, compiled by a group of independent experts and containing some key recommendations, was passed on to the Transport Minister straightaway and subsequently made public.

A key conclusion of this report concerns the imbalance existing between the resources available for regeneration and those for running maintenance. The report findings are highly critical of the current state of the French rail network and of the management methods used. Several recommendations are made to boost efficiency, improve productivity and so maintain the network at a high level of technical excellence.

Transport Minister Dominique Perben, RFF Chairman Michel Boyon and SNCF Chairman Louis Gallois set about the task of drawing-up an action plan within the framework of the options defined by the experts and, on 29 May 2006, submitted their conclusions to the Minister in the shape of a draft action plan for the 2007-2010 period.

Aims and principles of the action plan

The action plan proposed by RFF, as owner and manager of the French rail infrastructure network, and by SNCF, as ‘contractor’ with delegated responsibilities for network maintenance, is underpinned by three core objectives, as follows:

  • To enhance the quality of services to passengers and businesses
  • To raise the technical excellence level of the rail system
  • To optimise rail infrastructure utilisation

These objectives purport to maintain a high level of security at all times across the entire network. They derive from a set of five principles based on:

  • Boosting financial resources on a massive scale
  • Maintaining the existing network size (no line closures)
  • Restoring the rail network to a level of technical excellence that ensures its continued existence
  • Upgrading maintenance/operating methods, and generating greater cost effectiveness
  • Deploying a multi-annual maintenance policy centred on clearly-defined targets

The challenge for RFF and SNCF is to make rail transport more attractive and to improve infrastructure productivity, bearing in mind that the French network is not only very extensive (totalling approximately 30,000km in length) but also ageing and needs to be brought back to standard through a much more dynamic approach than was hitherto the case.

The action plan

To achieve these objectives, five priority measures consolidated into the action plan approved by the Transport Minister on 22 May will be implemented. They involve:

  • The definition of a multi-annual programme of track renewal and large-scale maintenance, driven by a consistent and coherent vision of the way forward, combined with proper transparency to ensure available resources are used to best effect
  • The phased regrouping of 1,500 signal boxes over the busiest sections of the network into a few operational control centres, which in turn will produce major cost savings (amounting to ?300 million annually in the long run), while contributing to operating performance enhancement. This ambitious Centralised Traffic Control (CTC) project will be deployed over a 20-year period (2007-2026)
  • The closure of service and station tracks consistent with a programme tailored to needs, which will provide major maintenance streamlining opportunities
  • The modernisation of maintenance practices, like the automation of worksite protection and of track/installations surveillance systems, or again the extension of track possession periods, which will translate into higher productivity levels
  • The parallel reorganisation of movements management

This package of measures will focus primarily on:

  • Developing train-interval patterns best tailored to track-work optimisation
  • The network wide introduction of regular-interval movements with fixed train departure times, which will enhance rail passenger and freight services, improve infrastructure utilisation and enable deferment of some investments with transfer of available resources to network regeneration activities

The action plan upgrades the infrastructure management framework in France and will be incorporated by RFF into its multi-annual strategic plan to ensure coherent and effective implementation. This plan will be flanked in 2007 by a multi-annual contract signed with the State.

Funding the action plan

This highly ambitious action plan calls for deployment of an exceptional funding effort by the State and the rail sector alike. Already in 2006, well before the plan was unveiled by the Minister in May, extra resources had been committed to the regeneration programme, with some €110 million added to the initial ?800 million budgetary package earmarked for track regeneration and technical upgrading. Thanks to these extra resources, funded by government to the tune of €70 million included in the 2006 finance bill, with the balance sourced by RFF and SNCF, some of the safety-related speed restrictions imposed on the busiest secondary line sections will be scrapped or lifted.

This effort, which in 2007 will translate into a further €260 million compared with the 2005 package, will be funded:

  • To the tune of over 50% through a hike in the annual regeneration subsidy (€90 million) and the contribution of the French Transport Infrastructure Funding Agency (€46 million)
  • Through resources generated by the rail sector itself, in the form of RFF asset sales (€90 million), savings on service tracks (€12 million) and SNCF contributions (€20 million)

Beyond 2007, extra resources will continue to be developed, with an extra ?600 million targeted in 2010. This rapid growth in investments earmarked for track regeneration and heavy maintenance will ensure the long-term sustainability of the rail network and enable the most commercially-damaging speed restrictions to be lifted. The actual funding will be sourced by:

  • State contributions (regeneration subsidy and funding of some investments by AFITF)
  • Extra revenues accrued to RFF (usage fees paid by railway undertakings)
  • The sale of RFF assets non-essential to its railway public service obligations
  • Savings in maintenance and operating costs resulting from productivity gains and from reductions in the number of service and station tracks

Regions will have an opportunity to contribute to the upgrading of specific lines, and more particularly lightly-loaded lines where declared policy is to optimise capacity utilisation by TER regional express train services. Negotiations are currently under way between the Government and Regional Boards against the backdrop of preparatory work on project contracts between the State and Regions covering the next five-year period (2007-2013), the aim being to enhance the quality of service on lines identified by the regional authorities as requiring priority attention. This means that the upgrading programmes undertaken will also feature track regeneration work on lines carrying average traffic volumes.

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