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Haut-Bugey revival will speed TGVs

01 Aug 2005

With aim of cutting the journey time by TGV between Paris and Genève, work is now underway to upgrade the 65 km between Bourg-en-Bresse and Bellegarde, including electrification and the re-opening of a 29 km section closed to traffic since 1992. Brian Perren reports

PRIOR TO the opening of the Paris - Lyon high speed line in 1981, rail's share of the Paris - Genève travel market was negligible.

Almost all rail passengers travelled by way of Lausanne (usually involving a change of train), Vallorbe and Dijon. There was one through EuroCity service from Genève to Paris via Lausanne offering an uncompetitive journey time of 6h, while the through coaches attached to a Chambéry - Paris train at Culoz took 7h to reach the French capital via Bourg-en-Bresse and Mâcon.

Since 1981 a Paris - Genève journey time of 3h 30min has been offered by TGVs leaving the high speed line at Mâcon and running via Bourg-en-Bresse, Culoz and Bellegarde. While this is just over the 3h threshold where air begins to gain competitive advantage over rail, TGV services have built on a very small traffic base to achieve considerable success. There are currently seven daily TGV services in each direction between Paris and Genève. One service in each direction runs non-stop between Paris and Bellegarde to give a Paris - Genève journey time of 3h 22min, and the route is now operated with refurbished PSE sets, although Duplex double-deck sets have been occasionally used.

With around 780000 passengers per year, Paris - Genève is a comparatively small but viable rail market. At present, rail has around 55% of the total TGV-air market, and studies undertaken by the French and Swiss governments as well as SNCF, SBB and RFF have shown that a combination of journey time reduction and an increase in frequency would allow rail to gain further market share.

However, there are no journey time savings to be made on either the Paris - Lyon high speed line or the conventional route between between Mâcon and Bellegarde, which beyond Ambérieu has a ruling maximum speed of 120 km/h owing to its curvature and steep gradients. It is also busy with freight traffic moving to and from the Italian border at Modane. While representing 35% of the total distance between Paris and Genève, the 181 km between Mâcon and Genève accounts for 53% of the journey time.

Take the high road

The chosen option was to upgrade the 65 km single-track Haut-Bugey route over mountainous territory between Bourg-en-Bresse and Bellegarde which, when work is completed, will cut 47 km off the existing routing via Culoz and shorten the journey time by 20min. While the 36 km between Bourg-en-Bresse and the junction with the Oyonnax route at Brion-Montréal-la-Cluse is open to passenger traffic, the 29 km from Brion to Bellegarde was closed in 1992 and trains replaced by buses.

While the Haut-Bugey line is entirely within French territory, a major beneficiary of the project is the Swiss canton of Genève. Recognition of this was confirmed in November 1999 when the French and Swiss ministers of transport signed an agreement on improving links between Switzerland and the French high speed network. Accordingly, the French and Swiss governments will each provide 44% of the total cost of €250m, with the remaining 12% funded by RFF (RG 3.05 p116).

Work began earlier this year, and this includes track renewal, curve easements and the creation of more and longer passing loops. The six passing loops will include a 2·8 km double-track section through Nurieux where an island platform will also be served by local services to Oyonnax. A new connection will be built at Bellegarde to enable trains to proceed directly to and from Genève without reversing, with new platforms provided for TGV services.

The Haut-Bugey route is being electrified at 25 kV 50Hz AC, requiring the construction of two traction substations. TGV sets will switch to and from the 1·5 kV DC supply at Bourg-en-Bresse and Bellegarde. Electrification requires modifications to 80 bridges and 11 tunnels totalling 7·4 km in length, and the route is being resignalled with colourlight signals controlled from a new centre at Chambéry.

The programme is due for completion in time for the December 2007 timetable change, offering a maximum line speed of 100 km/h similar to that on the route via Culoz. The time saving will be achieved through taking a shorter, more direct route rather than operating at higher speeds.


  • CAPTION: TOP: Two TGV sets operating a Paris - Genève service are seen here near St Rambert-en-Bugey on the sharply-curved, steeply-graded route via Culoz
  • RIGHT: Much work will have to be done to rehabilitate this neglected part of the Haut-Bugey route near Nantua, on the section between Brion and Bellegarde closed in 1992CAPTION: Brion-Montréal-la-Cluse station on the western section of the Haut-Bugey line, served by trains to Oyonnax and St-Claude

SBB increases Lyria stake

Under an agreement signed on May 12 2005, SBB increased its shareholding in the Lyria joint venture with SNCF from 11% to 26%, with Christian Rossi appointed to head the business with effect from July 1.

Lyria was originally formed to manage the marketing and promotion of jointly-operated TGV services from Paris to Lausanne and Zürich, and in 2004 became responsible for the Paris - Genève service. It has also been agreed that when the first section of TGV Est opens in 2007, the proposed service between Paris and Zürich via the new line and Basel will also be managed by Lyria.