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Realising railway ambitions

Posted: 31 January 2017 | Jean-Pierre Audoux , Director General of the French Railway Industry Association (FIF), | No comments yet

Today the French railway manufacturing industry has to contend with two major challenges: sustaining a high level of activity in the rolling stock manufacturing sector and modernising the national rail infrastructure network. Jean-Pierre Audoux , Director General of the French Railway Industry Association (FIF), takes a look at the current situation and what lies ahead.

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While the ‘Belfort Saga’ – given extensive national media coverage – was a political bombshell of sorts, the situation in which the rolling stock manufacturing sector currently finds itself is merely consistent with a trend that began five years ago.

In the wake of the Grenelle Environment Summit (2008-2009) that delivered a national consensus in favour of sustainable development and the promotion of alternative transport modes, starting with rail, the question of the competitiveness and future of this mode paradoxically became headline news in France in early-2010.

With SNCF (the French National Railway Company) experiencing lower profits – partly due to the renewed popularity of coach travel and attraction of carpooling – it followed that the anticipated rail specific funding and investment budgets earmarked by SNCF and the Regions had to be lowered.

The August 2014 Railway Reform driven by SNCF was guided much more by the German ‘integrated enterprise’ model than by the British model. In particular, it resulted in the disappearance of the independent railway infrastructure provider Réseau ferré de France (RFF) and its re-incorporation into the structures of SNCF. This resulted in the company’s monopoly being effectively reconstituted, yet without solving its financial conundrum (debt amounting to €53 billion and rising by €2-2.5 billion annually), nor remedying the railways’ loss of appeal in France.

The slack in rolling stock orders already noted in 2010-2011 was sufficiently alarming to induce fears of a 50% drop in manufacturing activity in France in 2015-2020 – a situation never encountered during the post-war period.

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