FRANCE: Réseau Ferré de France announced on July 4 that it had launched final negotiations with the three shortlisted bidders for the PPP concession to build the Contournement Nîmes – Montpellier, which it describes as the country’s first ‘mixed traffic high speed line’. RFF expects to receive Best & Final Offers in mid-October, and plans to select a preferred bidder by the end of this year.

Having submitted their initial bids to build 80 km of new railway on May 5 2010, the three consortia led by Bouygues TP, Eiffage and Vinci Concessions were subsequently invited to enter a ‘competitive dialogue’ with RFF. The winning bidder will be awarded a concession to build and maintain the new line, using mix of public-sector financing and lease payments from RFF. The infrastructure manager will retain the responsibility for path allocation and operation.

Partly financed through the government’s Grenelle de l’Environnement, the Nîmes – Montpellier bypass is expected to open in 2016. It has been designed to carry both passenger and freight traffic, and will form part of the emerging European rail freight corridor linking Valencia with Budapest.

The concession covers 60 km of high speed line linking the end of LGV Méditerranée at Manduel to the east of Nîmes with Lattes to the west of Montpellier. There will be a 10 km link from Manduel to the existing freight corridor on the right bank of the Rhône, and 10 km of connections at Jonquières, Lattes and Manduel.

New stations will be built at Manduel to serve Nîmes and in the Odysseum district to the south of Montpellier. Completion of the new line is expected to cut journey times between Paris and Montpellier to around 3 h. By diverting long-distance passenger and freight traffic away from the centres of the two cities, the line is expected to permit enhancement of Languedoc-Roussillon TER services between Nîmes and Sète.

In the longer term, RFF hopes to continue the mixed-traffic line to Perpignan, where it will connect with the cross-border route to Figueras.