FRENCH Prime Minister Alain Juppé announced on December 23 that construction of the first phase of the long-planned TGV Est project will start in 1998. With the declaration of public utility agreed in May 1996, the way is now clear for SNCF to proceed with detailed design and land acquisitions.

Although land will be purchased for the entire 406 km alignment, work is only approved for the first phase covering the 270 km from Vaires-sur-Marne in the eastern suburbs of Paris to Vandières, south of Metz on the main line to Nancy.

Juppé said that completion of the first phase will permit a Paris - Strasbourg timing of 2h 30min, with Reims reached in 45min and Metz and Nancy in less than 1h 30min. The alignment will permit TGVs to run at 350 or 360 km/h, which would permit Strasbourg to be reached in 2h or less if the section between Vandières and Vendenheim outside Strasbourg is completed later. No dates have been set for this work, nor indeed for completion of Phase 1, although this is likely to be in 2004.

Also approved is electrification at 25 kV 50Hz of the lines in the Vosges from Blainville to Remiremont and Lunéville to St Dié, and upgrading of the 7 km from Strasbourg to Kehl, including a second bridge over the Rhine at Kehl.

Cost will be Fr26·8bn, of which about Fr3·5bn will come from local authorities - the transport ministry says that ’a very important financial effort’ will be needed by the state. Rolling stock is expected to cost a further Fr6bn.

Traffic is expected to reach 15·5 million passengers a year, over 3 million of whom will be making international trips. o

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