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a model extended beyond
its relevance
Thematic Public Report
Executive Summary October 2014
his executive summary is intended to facilitate rea-
ding and use of the report from the Cour des
Only the report implicates the liability of the Cour des
comptes.The responses from the administrations and
organisations concerned are appended to the report.
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
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A success that has reached its limits
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A decision-making process that inevitably leads to the creation of
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An unsustainable cost
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Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
The history of high-speed rail in France is the history of the convergence, 30
years ago of an avant-garde technology with a large public. Indeed, many
French people have had the opportunity to enjoy the comfort and speed of a
mode of transport that is moreover considered by the cities it serves as an indis-
pensable landmark of modernity.
As the high-speed rail network (HSL) has expanded, the relevance of the model
and its benefits to the community have gradually decreased: new lines are less
and less profitable, the extremely large number of stations served is inconsis-
tent with the very notion of high speed, the profit margin obtained from this
operation as a whole is decreasing and each year covers a slightly smaller por-
tion of the deficit incurred by the other SNCF rail operations.
This investigation completes several studies by the Cour des comptes on the
subject of rail transport: regional express transport in 2009, Transilien in 2010,
maintenance of the French national rail network in 2012, accounts and manage-
ment of the RFF (French Rail Network) in 2013, trains d’équilibre du territoire
(TET, trains linking several regions) in 2014.
It highlights three facts that partially challenge the current model, and which
are reflected by the three chapters of the report:
• the benefits of high-speed rail for the community are not as great as were
anticipated and the very heavy investment was committed at the expense of
maintaining the conventional network ;
• the decision-making for the creation of an HSL is presented as a rational pro-
cess, but in practice, it remains highly dependent on subjective and political
parameters ;
• the financial resources allocated for the construction of the infrastructure
nowadays barely enable funding of the lines under construction.
Two major questions remain open :
- the arbitrage between the increase in tolls payable by the SNCF which reduce
the profits of the high speed operation but are essential to renovate and
modernise the conventional network ;
- the choice of a sustainable source of funds to replace the environmental tax
with a view to the implementation by 2030 both of new projects, especially
those adopted by the "Mobilité 21" Commission, and other infrastructure clas-
sified by the government as priorities, such as the Seine-Northern Europe
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
A success that has reached its
A technical success, the TGV in
France is today the most important
component of the long-distance pas-
senger railway system. Its ability to
serve the entire country using the
conventional network as well as the
high-speed lines makes it especially
should not obscure either the limits
to this success nor its negative
effects on the rest of the railway sys-
A French model characterised by a
specific type of equipment, which
also runs on the conventional net-
work to serve more destinations
than in any other country
Twenty years after the Shinkansen
came into service in Japan in 1964, the
SNCF became the pioneer of high-
speed rail in Europe, bringing the first
sections of the high-speed line (HSL)
on the Paris-Lyon rail link into service.
The initial success of this link has led
the government to encourage the
development of a high-speed line net-
work. These lines were originally des-
igned for trains travelling up to
270kph, a speed that was increased to
300 and then 320 kph on the newest
lines. The network now extends
2036 km, and it is envisaged that it
will increase to 2700 km by 2018,
when the four lines currently under
construction will be completed.
The French network is characterised
by "mixed high speed", where the TGV
trains, specially designed for high
speed, run on both HSL open only to
this traffic, but can also make use of
the conventional network. On ave-
rage, a TGV runs about 40% of its time
on the conventional network at the
speed appropriate to that network,
i.e., below 220 kph. This mix results in
the particularity of the French model:
it serves a large number of destina-
tions, over 230 in total, consisting of
intermediate stops as well as end-of-
line stations. This distinctive feature
has implications in regard to the ave-
rage speed of high-speed trains and
their profitability.
Considering the significant invest-
ment required to build high-speed
lines and purchase the rolling stock,
high-speed rail really has to be a mass
transport mode, that is, it must serve a
large number of passengers, travelling
in high-capacity trains with high occu-
pancy rates. It will therefore be all the
more profitable if it serves major
population centres with high fre-
quency (23 return journeys per day
between Paris and Lyon or Paris and
Nantes, for example). But France is
already suffering from an imbalance
between the capital city and the small
Multiplying thenumber of stations
served necessarily leads to lower fre-
quency and more importantly a large
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
A success that has reached its limits
fleet whose purchase, maintenance
and renewal are a heavy burden on
the accounts.
TGV service lines and destinations
Source : Guide TGV, SNCF (june 2014)
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
A success that has reached its limits
The « the relevance zone »
for high-
speed rail compared with cars and
planes represents a journey of bet-
ween an hour and a half and three
Fourteen countries in the world have
high-speed rail, using very different
models. In Asia, China and Japan have
the world's two largest networks, with
conventional network. Several models
can be found side by side in Europe :
Spain (the largest European network)
and France use a partial mix. Other
countries, such as Italy, have an exclu-
sive high-speed network. Germany is
alone in having a full mix : its high-
speed network is limited and it is used
by conventional trains travelling at
normal speed, which limits the time
slots during which high speed can be
used. In fact priority in that country
has been given to the renovation of
the conventional network in order to
decongest it to benefit North/South
freight transport.
There are two consequences to this
heterogeneity. First of all it is difficult
to draw lessons from experiences in
neighbouring countries, with the
exception of one: The high-speed train
is only really competitive with cars
and planes, in terms of the market
share of total traffic between two
cities, for journey times between one
and a half and three hours, that is, for
distances of between 350 and 600 or
700 km. Less than that, the car wins;
more than that, the plane.
A success that has reached its limits
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
Map of high-speed lines in Europe
Source : High-Speed Europe, RFF, 2014
It is consequently difficult to talk
« European
network » as the practices of the dif-
ferent countries are so diverse in this
regard. Therefore, the argument of a
European network is rarely relevant in
justifying the creation of a national
line. While the London-Paris high-
speed link is pertinent, that between
Paris and Barcelona is not, given the
distance, and nor is Lyon-Turin, consi-
dering its cost.
In France, the TGV has stabilised the
decline in SNCF passenger traffic. It
still represents a minority of jour-
neys and is not used primarily by
those whose priority is saving time. It
is also coming up against new forms
of competition
Within its relevance zone, the TGV
brings about both an increase in total
traffic and a shift in mode from air
and automotive travel towards the
TGV. These aggregate shifts thus
account for 67 % of total traffic
increase for the Mediterranean TGV
A success that has reached its limits
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
and 55 % for the Atlantice TGV and
first phase of the Eastern TGV.
Traffic in 2013 was 53.8 billion pas-
sengers-km1. It has remained unchan-
ged for five years. This level has been
achieved at the expense of long-dis-
tance conventional routes served by
Intercité trains (TET), where passen-
ger travel has fallen by five times in
thirty years and have seen the with-
drawal of many destinations. Traffic
for regional rail (TER, regional express
trains) has however increased in line
with that of the TGV, raising the ques-
tion of how expenditure is distributed
between the high-speed network and
the conventional network.
Source : Cour des comptes (according to the SOeS and monthly transport bulletins)
Note : The km of HSL are shown on the right-hand scale (filled-in squares for lines in operation,
grey for those under construction)
Km of HSL in service and passenger travel of TGV and other long-distance trains (in pas-
senger-km) (1980-2020)
Contrary to popular belief, the TGV is
not mostly used by those for whom
time saving is a priority, that is to say
those travelling in a professional
capacity :
account for only one-third among rea-
sons for travel.
One passenger-kilometre: unit of measurement equivalent to the transport of one passen-
ger over a distance of one kilometre.
& ’( $
$) $
,$ ,
A success that has reached its limits
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
Use of the TGV according to reasons: private 63.8% and professional 36.2% (in thousands
of journeys)
Source : Cour des comptes after processing the data of the national transport and travel sur-
In addition, TGV users are in the
highest deciles of income (as opposed
to regional transport or by car for
example). These two findings on
income and motivations of TGV users
raise questions about the relevance of
a model based in part on the service
by TGV of ends of line using conven-
tional track. The comfort of an unbro-
ken journey must be set against lower
occupancy rates and the deployment
of a large fleet of expensive trains if
they are not fully utilised or running at
full speed for the whole length of their
Finally, while it has been observed
that the TGV, in its initial phase of
development, gained market share
(often more than 60%) from the plane
and the car thanks to the single factor
of "speed", in recent times a change in
behaviour has emerged among some
become more important than saving
journey time. Taking into account,
among other things, the disappea-
rance of a large number of conventio-
nal long-distance rail connections
(Intercités/TET), customers are ten-
ding to move away from the railway
towards other modes of transport,
coach or carpooling, which, like low
cost air travel, have become formida-
ble competitors. The SNCF is still pro-
tected by the restrictions that exist in
France on long-distance coach trans-
port, but this de facto monopoly situa-
tion is not expected to last.
A success that has reached its limits
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
The arguments regarding environ-
mental impact, economic develop-
regions must be qualified
The TGV enjoys a bias in its favour as
regards its impact on the environ-
ment, which must be qualified: energy
efficiency, per person transported,
depends by definition on the occu-
pancy rate. Even though this rate is far
higher for the TGV than competing
modes on the most popular lines, it
falls considerably as soon as TGV
trains run on conventional lines. The
emissions per passenger : if the rate of
TGV occupancy is less than 50 %, the
balance is no better than
that of the coach. In addition, these
emissions also depend on the origin of
the electricity used. By purchasing on
the market, the SNCF imports a far
higher « carbon » proportion than the
French average, which is remarkably
low because of its nuclear power.
Following the calculation methods
adopted, this is capable of worsening
the CO
balance even further.
Furthermore, the construction phase
of the high-speed lines (HSL) also pro-
duces high levels of CO2: accordingly,
a comprehensive carbon balance of
the Rhin-Rhône (Eastern
branch) HSL
has showed that if one weighs all
emissions caused by the construction
of a line with emissions saved through
a shift in modal transport towards the
TGV, the line becomes carbon neutral
only 12 years after its entry into ser-
In the end, the cost per ton of CO
« avoided » through HSL, the relevant
environmental criterion used on pro-
jects, remains incomparably higher
than the carbon market price and
even the shadow price of the social
cost per tonne of avoided CO2 fixed at
€ 32 in 2010, and estimated at € 100
for 2030.
Regarding economic development,
there is a contrast between the gene-
ral opinion, which holds that an HSL is
always a positive factor for economic
development, and the few scientific
studies that post a more neutral
score. According to these studies, a
remains so, with or without an HSL. A
region in difficulty also remains so,
and the examples of activities that
grow up around the new rail infra-
structure have more to do with relo-
cations than net creation.
It follows that an HSL has an ambiva-
lent effect on regional development.
Contrary to the notion of TGV « for
all » that would bring equality bet-
ween the regions, the TGV instead
tends to accentuate the polarisation
around large cities, particularly the
largest of them, primarily Paris.
Faced with this rather mixed balance,
it would appear necessary to review
the French model, from at least two
perspectives :
- firstly, technological: even though
France was truly a pioneer in high-
speed rail, it has failed to impose its
model internationally, with only two
A success that has reached its limits
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
exceptions. Moreover, the parameters
of the new international tenders
require commercial speeds above
350 kph, which the French offer is
unable to meet. To remedy this delay,
a « TGV of the future » is among the
34 projects in the «N ew Industrial
France" Plan announced in July 2013.
- secondly, policy, which lies in impro-
ving the connection between high-
speed rail and other modes of rail
transport. To this end, rather than
considering the TGV as the sole land-
mark of modernity and retreating into
the contradiction of « TGV everyw-
here, stops everywhere», it is urgent
to define a joint offer between TER
and TGV, which, on a conventional but
renovated network, can deliver a rapid
service, but at less than 220 kph.
Similarly, the connection between the
railway and modernised road links (car
pooling, car sharing, for example)
should be considered as a priority in
passenger transport policy.
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
A decision-making process that
inevitably leads to the creation
of new lines
Investment in high-speed lines is
subject to a socio-economic assess-
ment the results of which, even if
negative, frequently become blurred
in the decision-making process; this
leads to projects being implemented
when their relevance is sometimes
questionable. This trend is reinforced
by the increasing use of co-financing
with local authorities. These opera-
tions call for counterparties who are
able to act against the rationality of
investment in high speed, as the
most recent projects demonstrate.
The socio-economic analysis of pro-
jects can be improved but remains
Among the projects for new high-
speed lines or any other transport
infrastructure, it is necessary to distin-
guish between those that are most
profitable for society and those that
are much less so. Socio-economic ana-
lysis (also called cost-benefit analysis)
is the method most used internatio-
nally for the assessment of these
investments. By reverting to a single
criterion of a monetary nature for dis-
parate data (value of time, of a ton of
carbon, etc.), this enables the calcula-
tion of the gains for society resulting
from a public investment by subtrac-
ting the costs involved and also taking
into account the lifetime of the infra-
structure using the discount rate. The
result of this weighted sum, the net
present value (NPV), like the ratio of
NPV to public credits (i.e., the NPV per
euro invested), are important parame-
ters for comparison between projects.
The internal rate of return or IRR,
which is the discount rate that reduces
to zero the NPV, discriminates against
it : any project where the IRR is below
a certain value, 4 %, is in principle
ruled out.
Multi-criteria analysis, which is the
other evaluation method, is less tech-
nical and responds better to the ques-
tion of alternative solutions (railway
rather than a road) but has the disad-
vantage of leaving a lot of room for
subjectivity in the weighting of crite-
In France, the Loi d’orientation des
Internal Transport Act)
requires that a socio-economic and
environmental assessment be inclu-
ded in the public inquiry for major
investments in the field of transport.
All civil government investments are-
subjected to an analysis of this type
under the Act of 31 December 2012
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
on multi-annual public finance plan-
ning. For the largest projects, an inde-
pendent expert second opinion is now
On the conclusion of the socio-econo-
mic analysis currently being conduc-
ted, the overriding advantage of rail
infrastructure lies in the time savings
that it allows. However, this analysis
has encountered several limitations.
First, it is difficult to obtain indepen-
dent expert second opinions due to
the reluctance of the SNCF to disclose
the data for traffic per line, for reasons
of commercial confidentiality. This
data is nevertheless essential for
assessments and expert second opi-
Furthermore, the overestimation of
time savings has tended to obscure
the changes in consumer behaviour
that has turned towards slower but
cheaper transport. Above all, it has
justified the construction of a number
of increasingly important lines at the
expense of maintaining the conven-
tional network, creating an imbalance
the consequences of which are now
Despite these shortcomings, the Cour
des comptes considers that the socio-
economic analysis should remain of
prime importance – if the above-men-
tioned faults are corrected –, to the
extent that the criterion of profitabi-
lity remains decisive in justifying the
optimal use of public resources.
Nevertheless, debate remains fierce
approach and those who believe that
non-economic considerations (equa-
lity of access for the regions to high-
speed rail, for example) should be
incorporated into the selection para-
meters. This debate is all the more
topical now that a new ministerial
directive of June 2014 has introduced
assessments for transport, without
citing the socio-economic assessment
in this context. However, in practice,
the socio-economic assessment was
already often pushed aside in favour
of less rational decision-making pro-
cesses. The
amplify this trend.
In theory, decision-making is based
on successive stages but in fact it is
irreversible from the start
The duration of implementation of
transport infrastructure has become
significantly extended due to the pro-
liferation of stages upstream of the
project, where citizen participation in
public debate has become essential.
This participation is primarily inten-
ded to obtain citizens' adherence to
the project.
Environmental protection has also
added stages prior to the decision, as
has heritage protection during the
construction phase. Today, it takes 14
to 18 years between the first drafts
and the commercial inauguration of a
In principle, in France the key stage in
the implementation process for trans-
port infrastructure is the declaration
A decision-making process that inevitably leads to
the creation of new lines
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
A decision-making process that inevitably leads to
the creation of new lines
of public utility (DUP) which deter-
mines the execution of the project.
Experience shows that this stage
becomes caught up in the overall pro-
cess where successive publicity stunts
end up serving as decision-making.
This observation holds for the projec-
ted Tours-Bordeaux line (Sud Europe
Atlantique), where successive state-
ments by the Prime Minister and the
Minister of Transport in January and
Charentes regions into the project,
served as the decision itself. Similarly,
the statement of the Prime Minister in
March 2004 on the Poitiers-Limoges
line had the strength of a decision
even though no prior study had been
Beyond such publicity stunts, the pro-
liferation of "small steps" eventually
ends by entrenching a project in rea-
lity. Of course, "prior debates" to the
studies, « preliminary engineering
studies », « a preliminary project out-
line » are provided for in the legisla-
tion and validated by ministerial deci-
expenses the sum of which eventually
end up justifying the implementation
of project. As the local authorities
concerned have a share of these
expenses and thus underscore their
future involvement in the realisation
of the project itself, it gradually
becomes impossible to stop.
This is all the more important in that it
has justified the emergence of a
concept of « co-construction » for the
lines arising from the « Environment
Summit », consisting of juggling preli-
minary studies and consultation at
the same time, thus reducing the
importance of the former in favour of
the latter. This was particularly true
for the Poitiers-Limoges project.
Under these conditions, the declara-
tion of public utility (DUP) adopts the
findings of the public debate as well
as the expenditure incurred in the pre-
liminary stages and ceases to act as
the trigger for the decision.
Finally, funding, even though essen-
tial, is not central to the decision-
Bordeaux, the DUP process took place
in 2006 and the selection of the
concessionaire in 2010, the financial
arrangements having taken about
four years, for a total of € 8.8 billion.
For the Poitiers-Limoges line, even
though the public inquiry has been
completed, the financing has not been
decided on, or even considered.
The assessment of the expected
return on TGV is mostly optimistic
In principle, the Réseau Ferré de
France (RFF), which is ultimately res-
ponsible for the implementation of
the high-speed lines, « may only
accept an investment project if it is
subject to specific funding in order to
avoid any negative consequences»
its accounts. IN other words, RFF may
only invest a maximum of the net pre-
sent amount of its revenues over the
life of the line, estimated at 50 years.
Then again, experience has shown
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
A decision-making process that inevitably leads to
the creation of new lines
that by varying the parameters that
determine the discounted net reve-
nue, it is possible to steer the findings
in an optimistic direction.
Thus, the expected revenues are clo-
sely linked to traffic forecasts. In the
case of Tours-Bordeaux (a section
operated under concession), RFF by
definition will not receive any toll.
Consequently, its financial contribu-
tion to this project depends on the
additional revenue envisaged on the
section Paris-Tours that is not under
concession, which depends on both
the level of traffic and the amount of
the toll. In both cases, the preliminary
assessments show a strongly optimis-
tic bias.
Similarly, depending on whether the
discount rate applied is higher or
lower, this will be either an obstacle or
an incentive to HSL projects. Thus,
RFF participation in different HSLs
were calculated with discount rates
varying from one line to another:
7.5% for phase one of the Eastern line,
4 % for phase one of the Rhine-Rhone
Est, 8 % for Tours-Bordeaux. Lastly,
even with optimistic assumptions,
some projects do not reach a mini-
mum threshold of profitability for the
community. For example, in the case
of Poitiers-Limoges, the results of stu-
dies have never exceeded an internal
rate of return (IRR) of 3.3 %, which
would be a justification for not conti-
nuing with the project.
The construction of unprofitable
high-speed lines is encouraged by
the increasing use of local authority
Because of both the demands of the
State and their growing preponde-
rance in regional development poli-
cies, local authorities are becoming
increasingly involved in the financing
of projects. Naturally, they only do so
if they are able to find counterparties.
These conditions can impair the profi-
tability of the projects.
The HSL East was one of the first
examples, as 16 local authorities par-
ticipated not only in its funding, but
also in the development of the
conventional network to provide ser-
vice to 16 non-TGV destinations.
These co-financings have given rise to
questionable choices: the existence of
two stations (TGV Lorraine, Meuse
TGV) that have no interconnection
with the regional transport network ;
the creation of costly service lines of
doubtful sustainability ; the prolifera-
tion of stops from Reims onwards.
The case of Tours-Bordeaux is even
more illustrative because it involves
58 local authorities for a total amount
of € 1.3 billion. Apart from the com-
plexity of a financial package compri-
sing so many participants which in
addition were not really coordinated,
the local authorities
made their parti-
cipation conditional on obtaining
numerous benefits and as packed a
timetable as possible.
The best-known example is that of the
participation of the Midi-Pyrénées
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
A decision-making process that inevitably leads to
the creation of new lines
Bordeaux line, conditional on the deci-
sion to build the Bordeaux-Toulouse
line whose importance and profitabi-
lity are open to question. From com-
mitments to providing service by
developing other parts of the rail net-
work, the Tours-Bordeaux project
strictly speaking has grown from 300
km and € 5.6 billion (value June 2006)
to the Sud Europe Atlantique (SEA)
project of over 850 km and € 14 billion
(value June 2006).
As for the Poitiers-Limoges HSL, to
ensure it a minimum – albeit small –
return, some of the traffic from the
conventional Paris-Orleans-Toulouse
(POLT) line has to be rerouted onto
the SEA line. This proposed reduction
from eleven to only four return jour-
neys per day aroused the strong reac-
tion of certain local officials, resulting
in this suggestion eventually being
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
An unsustainable cost
There are three reasons why the cost
of the French high-speed rail model
has now become unsustainable: exis-
ting lines are less and less profitable,
new projects are not financed for
lack of sources of funds, and the pro-
fitability on high speed lines is not
sufficient to guarantee a positive
result for the SNCF as a whole.
Lines are less and less profitable
HSL construction costs have been
constantly increasing over the last
30 years. From € 4.8 million
for the Paris-Lyon link, they have risen
to € 26 million/km today. On the latest
lines these costs are divided between
60-70 % for civil engineering, 20/30 %
for rail, 10 % for the land.
The gap between estimates and what
is achieved has averaged 17 % bet-
ween the declaration of public utility
(DUP) and the opening of the five
HSLs that have been assessed retros-
pectively. Similarly, operating costs
tend to be higher than expected, dou-
ble the forecasts for the Nord or
speed lines.
Forecasts of traffic are rarely achie-
ved. Once fully operational, out of six
HSLs that have been subject to
assessments of this type, only one, the
Paris-Lyon, has achieved higher traffic
than expected, five have lower traffic
including one, the Nord HSL, whose
traffic is lower by one half. On ave-
rage, forecasts are over-optimistic by
24 %
Consequently, profitability is always
lower than forecast and has tended to
deteriorate as the most profitable
lines were completed.
An unsustainable cost
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
of HSLs shown by construction date
Source : Cour des comptes, based on data from the CGEDD (General Council for the
Environment and Sustainable Development)
Economic and socio-economic returns are defined, the first as the financial profitability of
RFF+SNCF taken together calculated in constant euro and excluding financial expenses, the
second by adding in the surplus of other stakeholders (passengers, competing infrastructure
operators, public authorities, environmental impact) as outlined in Chapter II.
New projects are in financial stale-
The projects included in the draft
national plan for transport infrastruc-
ture of 2011 represented an expendi-
ture of € 107 billion in railways of
which € 60 billion was for the 2500 km
of high-speed line to be built.
Against these costs, funding sources
available to the transport infrastruc-
ture financing agency (AFITF) are less
than € 2 billion, all projects and all
sectors taken together (that is,
including roads, sea and river infra-
Faced with this stalemate, the govern-
ment appointed a commission called
« Mobility 21 », to allocate the diffe-
rent projects according to their level
of priority. The enthusiasm for high
speed rail in fact is in conflict with the
growing costs of building HSLs toge-
ther with their declining profitability,
the most relevant lines having been
built first. Following the work of this
commission, the government has still
chosen a more ambitious scenario in
which rail spending would amount to
An unsustainable cost
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
€ 23 billion by 2030. It follows from
this choice that, apart from the lines
actually under construction, the other
projects are not being financed in the
current state of the existing or fore-
seeable funding sources of the AFITF.
The sources of available funds are
being depleted
As regards the State, its budgetary
capacity for investment does not
exceed € 700 million in 2013. These
appropriations are borne by the
AFITF, whose usefulness the
Cour des
has in the past had occasion
to criticize. Its sources of funds come
from various earmarked taxes, a pro-
portion of radar fines and a State
balancing subsidy. It was envisaged
that this subsidy would gradually
disappear with the growing impor-
tance of the environmental tax, for
which proceeds for the full year
should have been around € 870 mil-
lion. However, the State subsidy star-
onwards, even though collection of
the environmental tax was postpo-
ned, now
sine die
Under these conditions, not only is the
AFITF struggling to meet its current
budget commitments, but the lack of
a new and sustainable source of fun-
ding, it has no more leeway for new
spending up to the 2030 horizon. In
this regard, the allocation in 2015 of
revenue from the increase in the
TICPE, the French domestic energy
products tax, on diesel (2 cents/litre)
will probably not be enough to make
up the shortfall from the relinquish-
ment of the environmental tax. There
is now the risk that new projects may
be started even though they are
underfunded and that the State will
gamble both on the implementation
of the projects being staggered and
on greater participation by local
authorities to make up this underfun-
ding. This assumption is all the more
shaky given that the financial situa-
tion of local authorities is tighter.
Moreover, as the « Mobility 21 » com-
mission has acknowledged, some
extremely costly projects such as the
Seine-Nord Europe canal or the Lyon-
Turin rail link, which it has not taken
into account, would alone be suffi-
cient to drain all the funding sources
of the AFITF until 2030 if they were to
be launched.
Finally, the SNCF's TGV business is
proving less and less profitable. While
turnover has stagnated since 2012,
the operating margin has decreased
under the cross-effect of revenue cap-
ping and increased costs. On the reve-
nue side, we observe that for commer-
cial reasons the SNCF is reluctant to
increase ticket prices, knowing that
the TGV is a product the user already
perceives as being expensive. On the
cost side, the increase in tolls is cer-
tainly an important factor, but it is far
from the only one : rising labour costs
is another, as well as the purchasing
An unsustainable cost
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
policy on high speed trains under the
inducement of the
State to support the industrial order
book of the national manufacturer's
transportation division.
Turnover, operating margin and margin rate (% of turnover) of TGV / France
Source : Cour des comptes, according to data from SOeS and SNCF
At the same time, the SNCF needs to
maintain a high margin in the TGV
business, essential for it considering
the difficulties faced in certain of its
other rail operations (freight, TET). To
this end, the SNCF is increasingly
resistant to the toll increases that are
being contemplated to enable RFF to
finance the construction of new rail-
way lines.
This resistance is nonetheless a zero-
sum game, since if RFF does not have
the toll revenue that it needs to reno-
vate the conventional network, that
body has no choice but to halt the
renovation or continue getting deeper
into debt. Moreover, as RFF debt also
tends to increase because it finances
increasingly less profitable HSLs, it is
not surprising that its debt, which has
already reached € 34 billion, continues
to rise by € 1.5 billion per year.
$ %" $
Executive summary of the Thematic Public Report by the Cour des comptes
to better integrate high-speed
with the mobility choices of the
French, making the TGV part of an
offer that takes advantage of all
means of transport – long-distance
(200 km/hr trains, tilting trains),
regional rail, collective transport
(road and air) and cooperative trans-
port (car pooling, car sharing and
renting) – and removing the restric-
tions on competition from long-dis-
tance modes of road transport ;
in parallel, to gradually restrict
the number of stops on sections of
HSL and TGV services on conventio-
nal lines and ends of lines, keeping
only those justified by a large
population base ;
to ensure transparency and
access to SNCF data, especially
volumes of passenger travel by line ;
to give priority to the socio-
economic assessment of HSL pro-
jects announced for before 2030 and
the second expert opinion by the
CGI, including those that were the
subject of a public utility enquiry
before 23 December 2013 ;
preliminary studies until :
- a business plan for the line has
been defined, bringing in the infra-
structure manager and the railway
operator or operators ;
Decision has taken into account the
financing prospects for the infra-
structure project and the distribution
between the stakeholders (state,
RFF, possibly local authorities) ;
to ensure payment by AFITF of
its financial commitments to RFF
and rapidly clarify the issue of this
agency's resources ;
to focus primarily on the finan-
cial resources to maintain the net-
work in relation to development pro-
jects and improve the management
of rail network maintenance by the
infrastructure manager ;
to ensure that the definition of
the future debt ratios of the infra-
structure manager actually result in