Red faces as new French trains 'too wide' for stations

“It’s a bit like buying a Ferrari that you want to fit into your garage, but then realising your garage isn’t quite Ferrari-sized, because up until now you didn’t own a Ferrari,” one of France's state rail bodies RFF offered by way of analogy.

PARIS // Cash-strapped France will have to trim back some 1,300 rail platforms at a cost of €50 million after realising a brand new fleet of trains are too big to fit its stations, rail operators said on Wednesday.

France’s secretary of state for transport, Frederic Cuvillier, called it a “tragically comical”, “mind-boggling” mix-up, blaming a lack of coordination between France’s two state rail bodies, the SNCF and the RFF.

The Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) and the Reseau Ferre de France (RFF), acknowledged the embarrassing situation after it was revealed by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine.

Introducing “wider trains in response to the needs of the public requires us to modernise 1,300 of the 8,700 platforms in the French rail network”, they said.

According to the Canard Enchaine, the SNCF drew up the specifications for the new-generation trains, including the carriage width.

“But the SNCF’s clever engineers forgot to check on the reality on the ground,” where the space between platforms varies between stations.

“It’s a bit like buying a Ferrari that you want to fit into your garage, but then realising your garage isn’t quite Ferrari-sized, because up until now you didn’t own a Ferrari,” RFF offered by way of analogy.

The mix-up drew strong condemnation across the political spectrum.

“With the price of train tickets steadily rising over the years, this waste of public money is absolutely insufferable,” said Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right National Front party.

Ms Le Pen accused the rail authorities of downplaying the real cost, saying the €50m (251m) figure was a “gross underestimation”.

The head of France’s ruling Socialist party was equally scathing.

“It’s absolutely astounding. Frankly I don’t understand,” said Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, who added rail bosses should take responsibility but stopped short of demanding their resignation.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM

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