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October 2014
A model extended beyond its relevance
Cour des comptes
has released a report on high-speed rail.
There is no questioning of the technical and commercial performance of high-speed train (the
at least until recently
and it users appreciate its speed. Beyond this, there is however a
need to assess its real contribution to the society as a whole.
As a result of its audit, the
Cour des comptes
considers that the choice of new high-speed rail
projects to provide public long-distance transportation must be accompanied by greater
guarantees of relevance and profitability.
Automatically opting for high-speed rail
The development of the TGV took place as a substitute for conventional long-distance Intercity trains.
The preference for high speed resulted in a system with little consistence, in which TGV serving 230
destinations spend on average 40% of their time on conventional lines, thus requiring a large fleet of
On some routes, the main conditions for the relevance of a high speed line (LGV - ligne à grande
vitesse) are not met, namely: large population areas, high-speed travel time ranging from 1 and a half to
3 hours, few or no intermediate stops, high frequency of trains, high occupancy rates and good
connections to other modes of transport.
The decision-making process that leads to building new lines in fact is biased in many ways favouring
the choice of high speed: blueprints become binding in practice, expected passengers traffic volumes
and value of travel time saved are too optimistic, premature announcements instead of formal decisions.
Besides, the call to local authorities for financing involves expensive counterparts for their support and
lastly, the financing for the line comes much too late. Finally, the environmental benefit, the impacts on
territories and the economic effects of the TGV must be tempered.
It follows that the socio-economic cost benefit analysis of high-speed lines is systematically
A model that has run out of steam, with an unsustainable cost
Since 2008, TGV passenger travel traffic volumes have stagnated, which is reflected in the turnover of
the TGV activity within SNCF. In addition, the profitability of LGV decreases with the introduction of ever
more expensive new projects. In addition, competition from other modes of transport (bus, carpools) is
SNCF is also facing growing costs due to the increase of rail tolls (+8.5% per year on average over the
period 2007-2013) but also of other costs (+6.2 % per year over 2002-2009), including wage increases.
In this context, the operating margin of the TGV activity has deteriorated significantly, from 29% of the
turnover in 2008 to 12% in 2013.
For its part, the high level of the debt of the French Rail Network (RFF -
Réseau Ferré de France
prevents new lines from being financed through new debt. Moreover, the suspension of the
environmental tax, income from which the French Transport Infrastructure Agency (AFITF -
Agence de
financement des infrastructures de transport de Franc
e) was to benefit, has deprived the latter of
resources, while this Agency has already been unable to meet its budget commitments in 2013.
The funding of already decided LGV projects is not yet guaranteed.
The Court issues eight recommendations, notably aimed at:
better integrating high-speed rail with the mobility options of the French users, making the
TGV part of an offer that takes advantage of all means of transport and removing the
restrictions on competition on long-distance modes of road transport;
progressively restricting the number of stops on LGV sections and TGV service on
conventional routes and ends of lines, keeping only those justified by a large population
ensuring transparency of data from SNCF, especially passenger travel per line;
giving priority to the socio-economic assessment of announced LGV projects;
deciding to launch preliminary studies only after:
- a business plan for the line has been defined, bringing in the infrastructure manager
together with the railway operator (or the operators);
- a formal joint ministerial decision has taken into account the financing prospects for the
infrastructure project and the distribution amongst the actors (State, RFF, local authorities
as appropriate);
ensuring payment by AFITF of its financial commitments to RFF and rapidly clarifying the
issue of this agency's resources;
focusing primarily the financial resources on network maintenance rather than on the
development of new projects and improving the management of rail network maintenance
by the infrastructure manager;
ensuring that the definition of the future debt ratios of the infrastructure manager do not
result in the funding of unprofitable projects.
Read the report
Ted Marx
Head of Communication
+33 1 42 98 55 62
Denis Gettliffe
Head of Press Relations
+33 1 42 98 55 77