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FRANCE: The French government will contribute €4·1bn to help finance the long-planned high speed line between Bordeaux and Toulouse, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on April 28.

Toulouse is France’s fourth largest city and the capital of the Occitanie region. It would be the last major conurbation to be connected directly to the high speed network. Writing to the President of Occitanie Carole Delga and Mayor of Toulouse Jean-Luc Moudenc, Castex emphasised that the project would help to create an ‘efficient’ link between the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, as well as bringing together the two major economic centres.

Confirmation of the state funding is expected to enable construction to begin in 2024, rather than 2028 as previously anticipated. This would see the new line opening around 2030.

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Common core

The Bordeaux – Toulouse LGV was awarded a Declaration of Public Utility by the Conseil d’Etat in June 2016, but has so far failed to progress for lack of funding. The project involves the construction of 222 km of new line from Saint-Médard-d’Eyrans on the outskirts of Bordeaux to Saint-Jory, north of Toulouse. Of this, the first 55&bsp;km as far as Bernos-Beaulac in the south of the Gironde département is envisaged as a ‘common core’ with a proposed route towards Dax and the Spanish border, although there has been no further progress with that scheme.

The route has been designed for 320 km/h operation, and would have two intermediate stations serving Agen and Montauban. It is expected to provide a fastest journey time of 1 h 5 min between Bordeaux and Toulouse or 1 h 20 min with two stops. Paris – Toulouse timings would be cut to 3 h 15 min from today’s best of 4 h 10 min.

The state contribution would cover around 50% of the total cost, which is currently estimated at between €7bn and €8bn, while the European Union is expected to contribute a further 20%. The remaining funding would have to be raised locally.

Describing the announcement as ‘a collective victory’ for local campaigners, Delga pointed out that Occitanie had already voted to contribute up to €1bn towards the project. However, the President of Lot-et-Garonne Sophie Borderie told local media that her département would not contribute ‘a single euro’ until it became clearer how the proposals would benefit the area.

The GPSO project will form an extension of LGV Sud-Europe Atlantique, now under construction between Bordeaux and Tours and due to open in 2017.

The Bordeaux - Toulouse line is part of the GPSO project, and would form an extension of LGV Sud-Europe Atlantique between Bordeaux and Tours which opened in 2017.

Regional connectivity

Construction of the new line is expected to free up capacity on existing routes, enabling the regions of Nouvelle Aquitaine and Occitanie to strengthen their local rail services. Integration between TGV and TER would provide ‘rapid and frequent’ trains to serve areas of employment and other activity in the Garonne valley, responding to strong demographic growth in the two regions, as well as improving connections to Gers and Lot in the départements of Lot-et-Garonne and Tarn-et-Garonne.

Meanwhile, Castex also announced that the government intended to accelerate work on the Montpellier – Béziers section of the proposed Montpellier – Perpignan high-speed line. He said a formal public enquiry for this section would begin before the end of 2021, with the hope that construction could also begin in 2024.