NOVEMBER 28 will see the start of revenue operation with French National Railways’ first Class X73500 lightweight diesel railcars. The ’Autorail TER’ units are due to enter service on the Strasbourg - Molsheim - St Dié line in Alsace. They will also replace bus services between Tours and Chinon in Centre.

Costing 1·3m euros each, the ATERs were ordered in conjunction with several of France’s 22 régions, which have placed firm orders for 101 and intend to buy up to 100 more. SNCF expects to have 25 in service by the end of the year, and all 101 by 2001. German Railway is also buying 40, designated VT641. The design was developed jointly by De Dietrich and LHB, both of which have since been acquired by Alstom.

The 28·9m long ATER weighs 49 tonnes, and is powered by two MAN D 2886 LUH 21 engines of 257 kW, driving one axle on each bogie through Voith T211rzze gearboxes. Top speed is 140 km/h. The 1300mm wide entrance doors are located in a low-floor centre section 550mm above rail level. Most of the body is aluminium, but the cab modules are steel. Each car has 61 fixed and 18 folding seats. The toilet is fully accessible. The cars have automatic couplers and can operate in multiples of three. A two-car variant is also being designed.

The ATER is the first SNCF regional train designed for driver-only operation, with CCTV cameras trained on the doors and monitors in the cabs. However, the drivers are isolated from passengers and cannot sell tickets. SNCF has yet to reach agreement for driver-only operation of these trains with the unions.