France opens two high new high speed lines in a day

French Railways (SNCF) added another 484 route kilometers to their high speed rail network from July 1, expanding the length of the French high speed rail network by a fifth in a single day. It now totals 2916km, the first section of the Paris to Lyon line opening in 1981, writes KEITH FENDER.

Two new 320km/h lines opened connecting Paris with Bordeaux in the south west and Rennes in the west of France, both lines extend the existing Paris to Tours/Le Mans LGV Atlantique high speed line which opened in 1990.

Both new lines have been built using a Public Private financing arrangement – the first time this has been used in France for new railway lines – with two different private concession companies. This approach was chosen to reduce the amount of government funds used but will result in higher access charges for trains operated on the line.

The 302km Tours to Bordeaux project cost €9 billion of which 42% was privately financed with a 50 year concession whilst the shorter 182km Le Mans to Rennes line cost €3.3 billion of which 26% was privately funded with a 25 year concession. Both new lines have several new connections to existing parts of the rail network enabling cities near but not actually on the line to be serviced; in another first, for France, a connection enabling regional trains to use part of the new line to Rennes has been built with Rennes to Angers services to be operated by refurbished 200km/h EMUs.

The inaugural train from Paris to Bordeaux operated on Saturday 1st July formed of brand new TGV Océane set No. 863 in the new TGV ‘inOui’ livery with invited guests making the journey in 2 hours 1 minute. The inaugural train on the Paris to Rennes route was later the same day and carried new French President M. Emmanuel Macron, who spent some of the journey in the drivers cab – with large crowds on many overbridges to see the train which was shadowed by a French Air Force Rafale jet fighter.

Major passenger stations on both routes have been renovated in advance of the new high speed services – the historic station at Bordeaux has been totally renovated with its large iron and glass overall roof – one of the largest at any station anywhere – completely repainted for the first time in around 100 years and fitted with new glass to replace the old. A modernised station in Rennes is under construction although it will not be complete before 2020.

Regular passenger services on both new lines started on July 2, although the first Paris to Toulouse service via Bordeaux was delayed after completing the high speed line part of its journey arriving in Toulouse 4 hours late!

Journeys from Bordeaux to Paris have been reduced to 2 hours 4 minutes; until July 2 it was 3 hours 15 minutes and historically before any high speed lines were built, the fastest time in 1990 was 4 hours 5 minutes with 200km/h loco hauled operation over classic lines. The Rennes to Paris journey is now only 95 minutes a reduction of 39 minutes with the latest new line.

SNCF plans to offer more as well as faster trains on the new routes with 27 pairs of TGV trains daily Paris to Bordeaux and 20 pairs of TGVs Rennes to Paris.

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