FRANCE: Management independence and business productivity at infrastructure manager SNCF Réseau are in jeopardy, according to President & Director General Luc Lallemand.


Describing a government decision to consolidate SNCF Réseau’s debts into the state accounts as ‘catastrophic’, Lallemand warned that the infrastructure manager would now be subject to contradictory policies from the Ministry of Economy & Finance and the Ministry of Ecological Transition, which is responsible for transport. Whereas the transport ministry supports investment to enhance productivity, the finance ministry’s interest is to limit investment that increases the national debt.

The French government’s move is understood to meet a requirement from the European Commission’s statistical office Eurostat. The government wrote down €25bn of SNCF Réseau’s accumulated debt on January 1 2020, and proposals envisage that a further €10bn will be written down in 2022.

In an interview with Ville, Rail & Transports, Lallemand pointed out that under the new rules all debts, costs and revenue from SNCF Réseau would have to be consolidated with the state finances. This meant that investment projects to rationalise the railway infrastructure would require authorisation from the finance ministry, he explained.

Since June 26, SNCF has been operating six trains each way per day on the reopened line.

Passenger lobbying organisation FNAUT commented on April 6 that the arrangement would undermine SNCF Réseau’s rationalisation plans. It drew attention to last year’s report from the Cour des Comptes, in which the auditors stressed the need for the state to invest in modernising railway infrastructure in order to achieve the productivity improvements sought by the transport ministry.

Failure to invest would set back efforts to relaunch rail travel and increase rail’s market share after the pandemic, as set out in the European Green Deal, FNAUT argued. Again citing the Cours des Comptes, the organisation raised concerns that lower investment levels would lead to further deterioration in the condition of the network, causing delays and interruptions to services.


One of the projects thought to be at risk is a resignalling programme aimed at reducing the number of signalboxes on the French network from around 2 200 and replacing them with about 20 control centres. During Lallemand’s tenure at Belgian infrastructure manager Infrabel the number of signalboxes in that country was cut from 365 to 11 between 2014 and 2019.