Photo: Fret SNCF/JC Milhet

FRANCE: Prime Minister Jean Castex, Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari and SNCF President Jean-Pierre Farandou formally relaunched the Perpignan – Rungis overnight express freight service on October 22.


The seasonal service that carried fresh fruit and vegetables from southwest France, Spain and Morocco to the Paris markets in refrigerated wagons had been withdrawn in 2019 as few customers were using it. Its ageing wagons had led to concerns that the service was being run down and most users switched to road haulage.

Known as the train des primeurs, the train carried a symbolic significance for France’s ailing rail freight industry and its withdrawal made it something of a cause célèbre― it was the only rail operation serving the Rungis fresh produce market.


Photo: Fret SNCF/JC Milhet

The relaunched service is expected to carry around 10% of the 4 000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables that are delivered to the market each day. Reinstatement has been made possible thanks to a government subsidy of €14m that will ensure the train can run until the end of 2024. The first train left Perpignan at 16.28 on October 22, arriving soon after 03.00 next morning in Rungis in time for the contents of the wagons to be distributed to the morning markets in Paris.

The government had promised in July 2020 that it would reinstate the service, and in a speech made before the train left the Saint-Charles terminal in Perpignan Castex ensured everyone present knew that the government’s commitment had been met. He pointed out that the volume of rail freight in France had fallen by 43% since 2000 and that its current 9% share of the domestic market was half the European average of 18%. ‘More worrying is that the European average continues to rise while ours continues to fall’, he said.

Following a call for expressions of interest in December 2020, the relaunched service is operated by SNCF subsidiary Rail Logistics Europe. It will run northbound on Mondays to Fridays between November and July, returning empty on the following day. Each train consists of 12 Type laghnpss refrigerated bogie wagons able to run at 140 km/h.


Of the 80 wagons used previously, 34 have been refurbished, providing two 12-wagon rakes plus a reserve of 10 vehicles. The refurbished fleet has been leased by Ermewa to specialist fruit and vegetables forwarder Primever until the end of 2024. In its previous incarnation the train had consisted of 26 wagons.

From 2025 the service is expected to be replaced by an autoroute ferroviaire rolling motorway train between Barcelona and Antwerpen that will call at both Perpignan and Rungis, but this will depend on an intermodal terminal being built at the Paris end of the route.

Rail Logistics Europe will also operate an autoroute ferroviaire linking Le Boulou in Pyrénées-Orientales near Perpignan to Gennevilliers in the Paris suburbs that is due to be launched before the end of the year. Plans envisage that this would initially run three times a week, stepping up to six times a week in April 2022.

The terminal at Le Boulou is to be modernised at a cost of €1∙5m, drawn from a €47m package of government funding being made available to support rail freight initiatives. Other schemes include siding and yard renovation work (€37m), upgrading of the power supply on the Dijon – Lyon route (€1∙5m) and the digitalisation of last-minute path booking processes (€7m).