LEGISLATION authorising the transfer of financial responsibility for French local rail services to the regions from January 1 was passed on November 28. Until now SNCF’s regional operations have been funded by central government, but this grant will now be paid to the regions, who will decide for themselves how to organise local rail and bus services.

Judging by the various pilot programmes (RG 2.01 p118), the change should be overwhelmingly positive, with investment in new services, refurbished stations and rolling stock. An indication of what may come is the order SNCF has placed with Bombardier for up to 500 regional trainsets (p6), with SNCF President Louis Gallois commenting that ’the signing of this contract is proof that the French regions ... wish to introduce pro-active policies to increase the frequency and quality of regional rail transport’. There are political implications too, as the legislation opens a tiny chink in SNCF’s effective monopoly of regional passenger operations.

Not that all is well in in France. The final version of a critical report into the 1997 restructuring that saw Réseau Ferré de France set up was released by the National Council of Public Rail Services on November 27. It points out that the problems caused by the debts amassed by SNCF have not been resolved. Formal recommendations from the Council were expected before Christmas.