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France's biggest renewals project

01 Jun 2007

RELAYING the 80 km of double-track main line between Les Aubrais and Vierzon constitutes 'the biggest regeneration worksite ever undertaken in France', according to RFF.

When Transport Minister Dominique Perben visited Saint-Jean-le-Blanc on May 22, the work was nearly finished. Completion was planned for June, and a programme of improvements along the 713 km line Paris - Toulouse main line will be finished next year.

The project is part of a scheme to provide better services over a route once intended to be operated by a small fleet of tilting TGVs. This idea was eventually abandoned, and SNCF is instead refurbishing the line's loco-hauled Corail rolling stock which is being rebranded as 'Teoz'. All main line trains on the route will operate as Teoz services by the end of 2007.

RFF began the €265m modernisation project in 2004, with renewal of the track between Les Aubrais and Vierzon starting in October 2005. Before tackling the track on this section, RFF resignalled the line at a cost of €32m to allow bi-directional working. Not only does this permit more flexible operations, but it allows trains to continue to run while the renewal work takes place on one of the tracks.

The €103m relaying job was assigned to Européenne de Travaux Ferroviaires, which is using a Matisa track renewal train that relays 1200m to 1600m a day, with 2000m reached at peak capacity. A day's work sees 2000 wooden sleepers and 1500 tonnes of ballast removed. The machine replaces them with concrete sleepers and 2000 tonnes of ballast, 500 tonnes of which comes from a recycling plant at Vierzon; the new ballast is hauled by train from quarries at Thouars and Cusset.

If wear tolerances permit, the rail is reused, with some of it being cascaded for use on less busy lines. Some of the wooden sleepers are reused in station tracks where speed does not exceed 30 km/h.

Other work on the route included relaying one track between La Souterraine and Saint-Sulpice-Laurière (€15m), bi-directional signalling (€13m) and relaying of both tracks between Masseret and Brive (€65m), relaying of one track from Anglars-Nozac to Saint-Clair near Cahors (€15m) and replacement of the steel decking on the Lamothe viaduct near Souillac (€16m).

Perben announced on May 22 that the next stage of work will cover replacement of five level crossings between Châteauroux and Limoges, allowing line speeds to be increased. Level crossings are also to be eliminated between Vierzon and Châteauroux, permitting a further section of line to be cleared for 200 km/h.

Picture caption: Being demonstrated for Transport Minister Dominique Perben at Saint-Jean-le-Blanc on May 22, the Matisa track renewal train operated by contractor Européenne de Travaux Ferroviaires can relay 1200m to 1600m a day