INTRO: Roland Bonnepart, Director of Traction & Rolling Stock at French National Railways, sets out his policy for fleet modernisation to Murray Hughes. Around 50 more TGVs will be needed for TGV Est, but the TGV Nouvelle Génération prototype will not be built

BYLINE: Roland Bonnepart

Director of Traction & Rolling stock, SNCF

FOR MANY YEARS French National Railways led the world in high speed train technology. French engineers can look back on a series of stunning achievements that culminated in the extraordinary feat of accelerating a modified TGV up to 515·3 km/h on May 18 1990. Ten years have passed, and SNCF is now in the hands of a management team with a different focus. One-off special events do not sit well in a culture where reliability and day-to-day performance fall short of customers’ expectations.

It is therefore no surprise that SNCF’s Traction & Rolling Stock Director Roland Bonnepart says the long-planned prototype TGV Nouvelle Génération power car will not be built. He suggests that the TGV-NG programme has yielded fruit in terms of research into asynchronous motors and other traction technology, aerodynamics and braking. ’So we cannot say that the TGV-NG is dead - the concepts it embraced were developed far enough for our needs’, he insists.

The TGV-NG prototype was to have been the last power car to be built in SNCF’s order for double-deck Duplex TGVs. SNCF has just exercised an option for 12 more Duplex sets, in addition to the 30 already delivered. But this is still well short of the 100 sets originally envisaged (RG 9.91 p593).

Bonnepart views the Duplex as ’a train that will meet our needs for a long time - it is an excellent combination of quality, capacity and price.’ Pointing out that the Duplex permitted an increase in capacity on routes such as Paris - Lyon - Avignon without any effect on operating flexibility, he explains that SNCF is seeking to standardise its TGV fleet as far as possible. ’We have 354 sets, rising soon to 366, and we want the fleet to be "interoperable" with 95% availability for periods of peak demand. We are evolving our maintenance procedures to ensure higher availability.’ Reflecting business pressures, he adds that ’the capital tied up in these trains is a strong pointer to the need to make productive use of them.’

Another TGV order will be placed before long. Bonnepart says that about 50 more sets will be needed for TGV Est: ’it’s a big project with services reaching far into Germany and Switzerland.’ In contrast, the 12 extra Duplex sets will suffice for TGV Méditerranée which opens next year, cutting the fastest Paris - Marseille timings to 3h; the present Sud-Est sets are being upgraded for 300 km/h and fitted with TVM430 train control.

At the moment SNCF is in the process of drawing up with German Railway a common specification for the TGV Est fleet. This should be complete by the end of the year, allowing the two railways to initiate an international tender procedure. The two are already committed to developing a joint design of high speed train by the end of the decade. As with the TGV Est sets, maximum speed will be 320 or 330 km/h, which implies that the same design may be chosen.

Meanwhile Bonnepart says ’there are no obstacles’ to DB’s ICE3 running to Paris, although ’a number of technical issues must be examined.’ For future generations of high speed train, he is ’open to ideas such as distributed power’, although he is clearly satisfied with the status quo.

Trials of a TGV fitted with active lateral suspension (RG 7.99 p426) are continuing, and Bonnepart says it is still too early to say if the technology will find a commercial application. He expects the answer to be known ’by the end of the year’.

This year also sees another series of trials get under way with the tilting TGV prototype. The previous Fiat tilt system has been replaced by a home-grown version from Alstom. This has electric tilt actuators and makes use of pre-recorded route data covering the location of curves and cant deficiencies so that tilt is instigated immediately before the train enters a curve. The arrangement is similar to that used on the Japanese narrow-gauge routes (RG 8.97 p532), also adopted in Queensland.

A programme of trials is under way at the moment and should be concluded by the end of 2000. For the moment SNCF plans to award a contract at the end of the year for tilting trains to operate the Paris - Toulouse route ’if financial issues can be resolved’.

Locomotive orders

SNCF has a second tranche of 30 Astride mixed-traffic locos on order for delivery in 2000-02, but the order placed in November 1998 for 120 ’low cost’ electric freight locos (panel) marked a significant change in direction. With a continuous rating of 4000 kW, they are not comparable in performance terms to the 6000 kW Astride fleet, but they are being acquired at ’a significantly lower price’.

SNCF’s main line diesel fleet is starting to show its age, and it is clear that exhaust emissions from the Class 72000 units will not meet future EU standards. Bonnepart confirms that SNCF ’plans to re-engine the CC72000 fleet to reduce exhaust emissions and noise, and to cut maintenance costs, although no firm decisions have yet been made.’

For passenger service the present loco fleet is expected to suffice for some time as the policy is to move to multiple-units.

Meanwhile, the second phase of refurbishing the large fleet of Corail loco-hauled coaches is to continue, and there are no plans for new day coaches. On the other hand Bonnepart is ’working on a new concept for night services, and once we have defined the type of product we need, we will decide if we should move to new vehicles or refurbish what we have. I agree that the present sleeping cars and couchettes are a little rustic.’

Paris suburban

The most recent EMUs delivered for Paris suburban services are the MI2N double-deck sets for the Eole link joining the Est commuter routes to Haussmann St Lazare (RG 8.99 p500). Reliability did not meet expectations, prompting Bonnepart to say last year that he was ’scandalised’.

Asked if the position had improved, Bonnepart says that the service level improvements planned for September 1999 had to be delayed until November 15. Punctuality has now improved to 97% of trains arriving within 5min of schedule ’so that our customers are satisfied’. Reliability is improving too, thanks to a programme of modifications being carried out by the manufacturers. He hopes ’to be able to judge the results by mid-2000’.

The MI2N sets are among the first to be marketed under the Transilien label signifying that certain quality criteria have been met. They share this distinction with refurbished Z6400 units operating out of Paris St Lazare.

Regions win benefits

Change is coming to many regional routes with the introduction of modern TER multiple-units. First of this strikingly styled family were the two-car X72500 diesel sets. Three-car versions were introduced on the Paris - Granville route last year. One unit has been fitted with Fiat tilting equipment at a cost of Fr30m, and if successful, tilting TERs may be introduced later on routes such as Lyon - Clermont Ferrand (RG 2.00 p66).

Suburban services in regional conurbations are receiving two-car TER Z2N double-deck EMUs, and these are already in service in Rh