THOUSANDS of passengers were stranded in TGVs and other trains when a freak wave of icy weather paralysed rail services across the south of France last month. One typical story related a nightmare TGV trip from Paris to Nice that took 31h; staff at one stage abandoned the train for several hours in Lyon-Perrache station, having apparently had instructions to leave the passengers inside with the doors locked. The resulting media furore escalated to the point where Prime Minister Alain Juppé rounded on SNCF during a cabinet meeting, complaining that communications had failed dismally.

Indeed they had, a fact which SNCF President Louis Gallois publicly acknowledged in the wake of the debacle. Arguments raged about what should or should not have been done - and whether large clouds of steam from the cooling towers of nuclear power plants in the Rh