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Inter-regional TGV line will have an international impact

05 Sep 2007

Spectacular time savings will follow completion of France's first inter-regional TGV line over the 140 km between Dijon and Belfort in December 2011. Reporting from RFF's construction headquarters at Besançon, Murray Hughes finds that the line will change Europe's railway geography

TRAVEL NORTH from Besançon to the village of Devecey and you will cross what appears to be an abandoned railway. Weeds flourish along the track and trees encroach on the formation. Like many branch lines across France, it seems neglected and forgotten.

While other branches have little prospect of revival, the Besançon – Devecey line is about to be awakened from its slumber. It is destined to form a key link with LGV Rhin-Rhône, the high speed line now being built between Dijon and Mulhouse. Rebuilt and electrified, the branch will join the historic town of Besançon to a new station on the TGV alignment at Auxon-Dessus near Geneuille. It will be shared by TGVs routed via the existing main station at Besançon-Viotte and a shuttle service connecting with domestic and international trains calling at the new station.

The 140 km route now under construction represents the first part of the eastern arm of LGV Rhin-Rhône. Western and southern branches are envisaged when funds become available in the medium to long term, and detailed plans are being prepared for the first part of the westward extension through Dijon, which will include a new station at Porte Neuve; it will join the former PLM main line to Paris near Turcey.

Planning for the southern branch that will one day allow TGVs to access the Paris – Marseille route near Lyon is less advanced, with studies still in hand to determine the best alignment. Current thinking would see this part of the project built to take freight traffic as well as TGVs.

In contrast to France's other high speed lines — apart from the bypass round the east of Paris — LGV Rhin-Rhône was conceived primarily as an inter-regional route and not as a high speed link from the provinces to the capital. Xavier Gruz, RFF's Deputy Director of Operations for the eastern section of TGV Rhin-Rhône, who is based at the company's regional headquarters in Besançon, explains the rationale behind the project.

At the local level, the line will link medium-sized towns and important centres of population in the Dijon – Mulhouse corridor which is sandwiched between the Vosges hills to the north and the Jura mountains to the south. Compared with the present route, which follows the valley of the River Doubs between Besançon and Montbéliard, it will offer 'huge time savings' as trains must currently negotiate numerous sharp curves where speed is limited to 80 km/h. In the long term a regional TGV-TER service could be introduced to enhance benefits for the local population and economy.

At the inter-regional level, the line will provide a link from Alsace to the Rhône valley, at the same time opening up the opportunity for faster links to Paris. Remarkably, Mulhouse – Paris services via LGV Rhin-Rhône and LGV Sud-Est will be 35 min faster than via the first section of LGV Est-Européenne.

Fastest journey time from Besançon-Viotte to Paris will come down from 2 h 30 min to 2 h 5 min from Besançon TGV, with eight services a day each way compared with six at present. The best Belfort – Paris trains will take 2 h 25 min compared with 3 h 50 min now.

In the Strasbourg – Lyon corridor there will be eight trains a day taking 3 h 15 min, instead of six requiring at least 4 h 45 min. Four a day will continue to and from Marseille, with a fastest journey time of 5 h compared with one train a day that takes 6 h 45 min.

Other sample journey times include Strasbourg – Dijon in 2 h 10 min instead of 3 h 40 min, and Mulhouse – Lyon in 2 h 25 min compared with 3 h 45 min.

A Mulhouse – Lille trip, currently not possible without changing trains, will take 3 h 55 min; in the days of through services between the two towns, the overnight train from Switzerland to Calais made the Mulhouse – Lille journey in around 7 h.

International role

The line is destined to have a huge impact at the international level, with much faster journeys possible on both north-south and east-west routes. A glance at the map (p543) shows that LGV Rhin-Rhône forms a strategic link between southern Germany, parts of Switzerland and the south of France. With services planned from Frankfurt and Stuttgart to Nice and even Barcelona, it represents a fundamental change in Europe's railway geography (Table I). RFF puts a Frankfurt – Dijon timing at 4 h 5 min, with Lyon reached in 5 h 15 min. The Stuttgart – Lyon timing would be 5 h 5 min.

The eastern end of the new line is close to Basel, bringing the fastest Basel – Paris journey times down to 3 h, with Zürich – Paris taking 3 h 55 min. This means that the TGV services from Basel and Zürich currently routed via LGV Est will switch to LGV Rhin-Rhône from 2011. As many as 270?000 passengers a year are expected to abandon flights in favour of rail on the Zürich – Basel – Paris axis.

Traffic forecasts based on the expected development of the French economy distinguish between the north-south and east-west flows (Table II). The total number of passengers forecast to be using rail between destinations served by the new line in 2011 is nearly 9·4 million, but opening of the new line is expected to push the total up by 28% to just over 12 million a year in 2011-13.

Around 730 000 passengers a year are forecast to switch from trips by road, with passengers diverting from airlines totalling 480?000. A further 1·46 million passengers a year represent newly-generated traffic.

ETCS and TVM

Asked about rolling stock for the international services, Gruz confirms that the line will be fully interoperable and fitted with ETCS Level 2 and TVM430 train control for bi-directional working, as on LGV Est. 'If LGV Est had been equipped only with ETCS Level 2, then we would have done the same', he says. The line's control centre will be located at Dijon.

Around 30 TGV sets are required to cover the expected level of service, and some of these may be drawn from the fleet of 80 Duplex sets ordered in June this year, some of which will be equipped for international services. Gruz confirms that the line will be able to accept German ICE3MF trainsets, adding that RFF had so far received no request for the line to be used by any other type of rolling stock.

Linked to the scheme is a plan for a new TGV rolling stock depot at Lyon which will be able to maintain 30 trainsets initially and 60 when expanded to full capacity. Depots at Strasbourg, Nice and Mulhouse will also need to be enlarged or improved, and the cost of this work, to be borne by SNCF, amounts to €110m.

Project scaled down

The eastern section of LGV Rhin-Rhône was originally to have run all the way from Dijon to Mulhouse, but budget cuts mean that for the moment the route is truncated at both ends, with TGVs using connections to the existing network at Villers-les-Pots near Auxonne and Petit-Croix southeast of Belfort. With the section under construction costing €2·3bn (Table III), a further €829m is needed to complete the sections at each end which total 50 km. No agreement has been reached on how this sum will be found, which is causing some concern to local politicians who in July submitted a formal request to the Prefet calling for a start to be made on route design studies.

RFF's funding contribution of €642m is considered as a profitable investment – Gruz says that RFF is not permitted to invest in projects that are not self-financing or profitable. The infrastructure company's contribution was calculated on the basis of expected track access fees charged for use of the new line, from which maintenance costs are deducted. What remains is the amount that RFF is permitted to sink into the scheme.

Civil works

The programme of civil engineering works (Table IV) is split into three lots and is running to schedule. After a long planning and approvals process, construction began on July 3 2006 (Table V), and completion of civil work on the western part of the route is set for the end of 2008. The topography is more challenging at the eastern end closer to Belfort, where completion is not anticipated until 2009.

The alignment — designed for trains to run at 320 km/h and ultimately 350 km/h — requires the construction of 13 viaducts. The longest of these traverses the River Saône (1 340 m) near Auxonne, and at 792 m, the Savoureuse viaduct just west of the Belfort-Montbéliard station is the next longest.

This spectacular structure takes the line across the River Savoureuse, the Canal de la Haute Saône, the A36 motorway and another main road. The challenge to the architect was to design a structure that did not appear to be too massive in relation to its height of 30 m above the ground. A design competition was won by British architects Wilkinson Eyre, which has chosen a striking tetrapod structure for the piers. These will be illuminated at night, and a lighting display will accompany each train as it traverses the viaduct.

The 1 970 m long Chavanne tunnel northwest of Montbéliard is the only one on the line. This will be a double track structure cut through limestone and marl, requiring the use of two different construction techniques.

Track will consist of continuously-welded rail laid on monobloc concrete sleepers with Pandrol fastenings.

Bids for signalling, telecoms, power supply and electrification at 2 x 25 kV 50 Hz were issued on August 8 with reponses due by September 17. Bids for trackwork are expected shortly, and RFF aims to award the tender in spring 2008. This will give the contactor 12 months to prepare for the start of tracklaying, which will continue through 2009 and 2010. The tracklaying base will be located at Villersexel, midway between Besançon and Belfort. A short section of new line needs to be laid between the TGV alignment and the base, which will be easily reached over the line from Lure, allowing ballast and other materials to be brought in by rail. All railway equipment should be in place by early 2011, allowing testing to start well before the planned opening date in December that year. By then the control centre at Dijon will be fully functional.

In contrast to the procedure that applied during construction of LGV Est, the track contractor rather than SNCF will be responsible for all train movements on the new line. This, says Gruz, is 'a culturally important change' that should lead to better efficiency and lower costs.

Apart from the station at Auxon-Dessus serving the Besançon area, a second new station will be built at Meroux to serve the district around Belfort and Montbéliard. Both new stations are expected to handle 1·1 million passengers a year. Together with other station improvements, construction cost to SNCF will amount to €44m.

Table I. Proposed weekday service pattern for LGV Rhin-Rhône in 2011*

East-west

Lille – Roissy-CdG – Marne-la-Vallée – Montbard – Dijon – Besançon TGV – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Mulhouse;

Brussels – Lille – Roissy-CdG – Marne-la-Vallée – Dijon – Besançon TGV – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Mulhouse – Basel;

Paris – Dijon – Besançon TGV – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Mulhouse;

Paris – Besançon TGV – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Mulhouse;

Paris – Mulhouse – Basel – Zürich;

Paris – Dijon – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Mulhouse – Basel – Zürich;

Paris – Mulhouse – Basel – Bern;

Paris – Montbard – Dijon – Besançon TGV – Besançon Viotte;

Paris – Montbard – Dijon – Dôle – Besançon-Viotte;

Paris – Dijon – Dôle.

North-south

Frankfurt/Mannheim/Karlsruhe/Stuttgart – Strasbourg – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Besançon TGV – Dijon – Lyon – Valence TGV - Montpellier – Perpignan – Barcelona;

Frankfurt/Mannheim/Karlsruhe/Stuttgart – Strasbourg – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Besançon TGV – Dijon – Lyon – Avignon TGV – Marseille – Côte d'Azur;

Frankfurt/Mannheim/Karlsruhe/Stuttgart – Strasbourg – Colmar - Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Besançon TGV – Dijon – Lyon;

Strasbourg – Colmar - Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Besançon TGV – Lyon – Avignon TGV – Marseille – Côte d'Azur;

Strasbourg – Colmar – Mulhouse – Dijon – Mâcon – Lyon – Valence TGV – Montpellier – Toulouse;

Strasbourg – Colmar – Mulhouse – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Besançon-Viotte – Lons-le-Saunier – Bourg-en-Bresse – Lyon – Valence TGV – Avignon TGV – Marseille;

Mulhouse – Lyon;

Basel – Mulhouse – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Besançon TGV – Lyon;

Zürich – Basel – Mulhouse - Dijon – Mâcon – Lyon – Valence TGV – Montpellier – Perpignan – Barcelona;

Zürich – Basel – Mulhouse – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Besançon TGV – Dijon – Lyon;

Zürich – Basel – Mulhouse – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Besançon TGV – Lyon – Avignon TGV – Marseille – Côte d'Azur.

* One or more return services a day on each route

Table II. Annual traffic projected to use LGV Rhin-Rhône in 2011-13, 000 passengers

East-west
Domestic 5 315
International1 1 522
Sub-total 6 837
North-south
Domestic 4 376
International2 846
Sub-total 5 222
Total 12 059

[1] Switzerland – Ile de France
[2] Germany – Spain; Germany – France; France – Spain; Switzerland – south of France; Switzerland – Spain; Luxembourg – south of France; Luxembourg-Spain

Table III. Funding sources for eastern arm of LGV Rhin-Rhône, €m at 2004 prices

French government (AFITF) 751
European Union 200
Swiss government 66
RFF 642
Franche-Comté Region 316
Alsace Region 206
Bourgogne Region 131
Total 2 312

Table IV. Main construction data for eastern section of LGV Rhin-Rhône

Route length km 140
Minimum curve radius m 5 600
exceptionally 5 556
Distance between track centres mm 4 500
Steepest gradient % 3·5
Viaducts 13
Road overbridges 93
Road underbridges 67
Tunnels 1
Earthworks m3 24 000 000

Table V. Key dates for LGV Rhin-Rhône project

  • September 10 1992 Transport ministry decides on preliminary studies
  • March 20 1995 Preliminary study submitted to transport ministry
  • May 9 1995 Transport ministry approves detailed studies
  • October 27 1999 Transport ministry agrees alignment of first part of line from Auxonne (Villers-les-Pots) to Petit-Croix
  • May 29 – July 29 2000 Public enquiry
  • January 25 2002 Declaration of Public Interest (DUP) signed
  • June 4 2002 Financial agreement for detailed studies signed
  • June 2 2003 Conseil d'Etat rejects five objections to the DUP
  • December 18 2003 Ciadt announces work will start in 2006
  • August 2004 Transport ministry receives full project report with route surveys
  • September 2004 Engineering design begins
  • July 3 2006 Funding agreement signed and start of civil works
  • August 2007 Invitation to tender for railway equipment
  • Spring 2008 Award of railway equipment tender
  • Spring 2009 Tracklaying starts
  • Early 2011 Testing begins
  • December 2011 Line opens to traffic
  • CAPTION: LGV Rhin-Rhône provides a strategic link for international services from Switzerland and southern Germany to the south of France and Spain; extensions planned to the west and south will further accelerate journey times
  • CAPTION: The first phase of LGV Rhin-Rhône links the regions of Dijon and Belfort, connecting to the existing network at Villers-les-Pots and Petit-Croix. The first part of a western extension will take the line through Dijon, where a new station will be built at Porte Neuve
  • CAPTION: The first girder for the Linotte viaduct was launched in July this year
  • CAPTION: Earthworks are largely complete at the junction with the Besançon – Devecey line near the future Besançon TGV station
  • CAPTION: The Chavanne tunnel is the only one on the line

La ligne à grande vitesse interrégionale aura un impact international

La section initiale de la première ligne à grande vitesse interrégionale française se dessine à travers les collines boisées du Jura, dans l'est de la France. Prévue pour entrer en service en décembre 2011, les 140 km de lignes s'étendent de Villers-les-Pots, à l'est de Dijon, à Petit-Croix, près de Belfort. Avec deux arrêts intermédiaires pour desservir les zones de Belfort et de Besançon, la LGV Rhin-Rhône va permettre une accélération spectaculaire des services intérieurs entre l'est de la France, la vallée du Rhône et la Méditerranée. Des gains de temps spectaculaires sont également attendus pour attirer le trafic international entre, d'une part, le sud de l'Allemagne et le nord de la Suisse, d'autre part, la Côte d'Azur et l'Espagne

Interregionale Hochgeschwindigkeitsstrecke mit internationalen Auswirkunge

Der erste Abschnitt von Frankreichs erster interregionaler Hochgeschwindigkeitsstrecke wird in die bewaldeten Hügel des Juras im östlichen Frankreich hineingeschnitten. Mit der geplanten Eröffnung im Dezember 2011 verläuft die 140 km lange Strecke von Villers-les-Pots, östlich von Dijon nach Petit-Croix bei Belfort. Mit zwei Stationen, welche die Regionen von Belfort und Besançon bedienen, erlaubt die LGV Rhin-Rhône dramatische Beschleunigungen der Verbindungen zwischen Ostfrankreich und dem Mittelmeer. Spektakuläre Zeitgewinne lassen ebenfalls eine Attraktivitätssteigerung für Verbindungen zwischen Süddeutschland und der Nordschweiz einerseits und der Côte d'Azur sowie Spanien andererseits erwarte

Línea interregional de alta velocidad con impacto internacional

Se está excavando el tramo inicial de la primera línea interregional de alta velocidad de Francia, que atraviesa las pequeñas montañas del Jura al este del país. Se espera que la línea de 140 km, que comienza en Villers-les-Pots, al este de Dijon, y termina en Petit-Croix, cerca de Belfort, esté en funcionamiento en diciembre de 2011. Con dos estaciones intermedias, que darán servicio a las áreas de Belfort y Besançon, la LGV Rhin-Rhône acelerará de forma espectacular los servicios domésticos entre el este de Francia, el valle del Rhône y el Mediterráneo. Se espera que la reducción importante de los tiempos de viaje sea también un gancho para atraer el tráfico internacional procedente del sur de Alemania y del norte de Suiza, con destino a la Côte d'Azur y a España