SNCF Rolling Stock Division seeks to expand

Posted: 3 December 2008 | | No comments yet

Long-distance international passenger traffic in Europe will be opened up to competition in 2010. In an interview for the Global Railway Review, Alain Bullot, Director of the SNCF Rolling Stock Division, explains how they are gearing up for the challenge.

Long-distance international passenger traffic in Europe will be opened up to competition in 2010. In an interview for the Global Railway Review, Alain Bullot, Director of the SNCF Rolling Stock Division, explains how they are gearing up for the challenge.

Long-distance international passenger traffic in Europe will be opened up to competition in 2010. In an interview for the Global Railway Review, Alain Bullot, Director of the SNCF Rolling Stock Division, explains how they are gearing up for the challenge.

The European Commission in Brussels has long had a policy of promoting competition between operators on the continent’s railways, in order to bring down prices and sharpen up service for consumers. Competition has been in place in the freight sector for more than two years now, with previously closed markets such as France seeing new entrants such as DB Schenker’s Euro Cargo Rail division and Veolia Cargo.

The next step comes on 1 January 2010, when the international passenger sector will be opened up to competition. Already, some major airlines such as Air France have spoken of taking advantage of the opportunities offered by this change in the law, capturing the environmental zeitgeist with the idea of transferring passengers on international routes such as Paris to London from air to rail.

SNCF’s (French Railways) Rolling Stock Division, under its new head Alain Bullot, is being reshaped to address the challenge of this changing world. The division has been set up along business lines, intended to offer services not only to SNCF’s traffic divisions but to outside companies as well.

“As a champion of popular high-speed trains, SNCF is more than ever developing its offer in all aspects of eco-mobility and is also becoming more active on the international front,” said Mr. Bullot.

Attending the InnoTrans trade fair in Berlin in September 2008, Mr. Bullot said that the show provided “the chance for us to highlight our assets: the excellence of our know-how, our capacity for innovation, and the potential of our engineering expertise, and also to develop our external contacts.”

International reach

Alain Bullot told Global Railway Review that the SNCF Rolling Stock Division already has significant international business, undertaking maintenance work for CFL (Luxembourg Railways) and also the international companies Eurostar and Thalys, operating services from Paris to London and Brussels respectively.

“We have strong partnerships with our colleagues from Great Britain and Belgium and we want to build on these,” said Mr. Bullot.

As holder of the world rail speed record following the breathtaking 574.8km/h top speed reached by the V150 test Train à Grande Vitesse on 3 April 2007, SNCF is keen to promote French high-speed technology throughout the world.
An example of this is provided by South Korea, where French technology was provided for the new high-speed line in that country in the shape of KTX high-speed trains built by Alstom. When services began in 2004, the SNCF rolling stock division played a key role in the transfer to Korea of routine maintenance skills for the 46 KTX trains.

These trains are now coming up for heavy maintenance procedures, following 1.6million kilometres of successful high-speed running. An international tender call was made for companies to be involved with this work: the SNCF rolling stock division, working in conjunction with SNCF International, was successful in this tendering process. The company will be redrafting some maintenance documents and overseeing skills transfer to Korean staff, with specialists from SNCF’s TGV Est, Bischheim and Hellemmes bases helping out.

The company also intends to play a consultancy role, defining ways in which the performance of the KTX fleet could be improved.


SNCF is proud of its expertise in rolling stock engineering, organising the company to maintain a leading position in this field. The Centre d’Ingénierie du Matériel (CIM) and the Agence d’Essai Ferroviaire (AEF) at headquarters level are supported by 39 maintenance bases, the so-called Technicentres, spread across France.

The CIM defines the technical criteria for product specifications relating to new equipment, and also oversees refurbishment projects.

The AEF is responsible for trials of rolling stock, both new and altered. This agency works both within France and further afield, having recently won a contract for type approval tests for the Benelux high-speed line in an international tender competition.

SNCF is involved in such work around the globe, with recent successes including type approval of rolling stock in the USA, definition of testing procedures in China, and non-destructive testing of axles in Mauritania.

The feedback (known as REX) from the Technicentres is a valuable resource. “The integration of the manufacturer into the virtuous REX circle is an added value in the future designs of its equipment,” said Mr. Bullot. “In Korea, the Rolling Stock Division experts have determined the maintenance rules for the KTX high-speed train.”

SNCF has for some time been promoting increased quality at its Technicentres through ISO 9001 certification, and is now engaged in obtaining ISO 14001 certification. This covers production quality and continuous improvement of processes and also recognises progress in sustainable development and minimising environmental impact. It is expected that all the Technicentres will have obtained their certification in 2009.

Freight expertise

Before joining the Rolling Stock Division in September 2008, Alain Bullot was involved in SNCF’s Freight Division, working as Director of Freight for Normandy / Greater Paris. While the freight division has had its problems, Mr. Bullot’s eyes light up at the potential in the sector. He is convinced that the company can increase productivity, with a new system known as SWING designed to improve the poor utilisation rates of rolling stock through effective scheduling of freight services and a better transport plan. “The system optimises the use of all resources – drivers, paths on the rail system and rolling stock,” he told us.

Low availability of the freight locomotive stud in France has already been addressed.

“A few years ago, only about seven out of ten locomotives were available for use, which is not a good performance of course – but a lot of the locomotives were quite old, with some built up to 40 years ago,” explained Mr. Bullot. “We have put in a lot of effort and investment and we now have a fleet of modern locomotives, and the availability of locomotives for freight now stands at about 90%.”

In his new post as Director of the Rolling Stock Division, Mr. Bullot is keen to capitalise on this expertise in freight locomotives. New players have arrived on the scene with the opening up of the freight markets to competition. “For these players, developing a network of maintenance establishments is unrealistic,” said Mr. Bullot. “At best they may have teams at each end of their lines.”

SNCF is offering its nationwide spread of rolling stock depots as a solution to these companies’ maintenance problems. “For example, for a new entrant providing traffic between Luxembourg and Spain, SNCF has maintenance sites at Thionville, Metz, Chalindrey (near Langres), Dijon, Lyon, Avignon, Nîmes, Béziers and Perpignan and can therefore intervene anywhere very quickly,” said Mr. Bullot.

He added that the company has built up expertise in a variety of equipment, including that used by the new entrants in the freight sector. For example, maintenance of Vossloh locomotives is provided by the SNCF Rolling Stock Division in several of its Technicentres.

This is the type of work the division is hoping to grow as it pursues the goal of expanding beyond its traditional boundaries.

Related organisations

Related regions

Related people