OPTIONS to improve the woeful performance of the French rail freight business were due to be presented to the SNCF board on October 22. Freight revenue in the first six months of the year was 3% down on the same period in 2002, which SNCF blamed on the poor economic situation and on industrial action by staff in the spring.

Announcing the freight review on September 24, SNCF also confirmed that it was looking at how to save €100m by the end of the year under a programme of economy measures dubbed the Starter plan. This will see a renewed sales effort for both passenger and freight services allied to cuts in purchasing and postponing the recruitment of 1350 staff until next year. SNCF had budgeted to have 174400 staff in its employ at the year end, but this will fall to 172400. None of this will cheer France’s militant railway trade unions, who are currently up in arms over government plans to introduce a minimum level of service requirement during industrial conflicts.

The beleagured operator also faces the prospect of paying around €60m a year in higher access charges to Réseau Ferré de France in 2004 and beyond. While the state may alleviate this burden, SNCF President Louis Gallois faces an increasingly unenviable task in his attempts to turn round the business.

  • Provincial cities in France have registered concern at plans announced in the 2004 state budget to curtail funding for public transport, which would become the responsibility of regional authorities.