A Bordeaux – Nantes intercités service formed of two Coradia Liner electro-diesel multiple-units calls at La Roche sur Yon. (Photo: Wikimedia/Karelem)

FRANCE: Government plans to let concessions to operate the 10 conventional inter-city services for which it remains responsible have been put on hold pending a review of the tendering conditions.

A pilot tender for the operation of Trains d’Equilibre du Térritoire on the Nantes – Bordeaux and Nantes – Lyon routes from 2022 has been declared void, after attracting just one bidder. Although Transdev and SNCF Voyageurs had reportedly both qualified to bid by the time the specification was issued on July 27 last year, in the end only SNCF was prepared to submit an offer.

The Ministry for Environmental Transformation & Sustainability, whose remit includes transport, announced on January 6 that the government had decided in December to abandon the procurement. It explained that ‘the conditions for fair and equitable competition guaranteeing the best service for the user at the best price’ had not been met.

The statement added that the government would review the conditions for relaunching competitive tenders for the two routes once it had a clear picture of the outcome of the Covid pandemic. This suggests that the tendering process will not restart until late 2021 or early 2022 at the earliest.

The ministry indicated that the opening of TET routes to competition would happen ‘progressively’, taking into account the renewal of rolling stock. Services on the Nantes – Bordeaux and Nantes – Lyon routes have already been re-equipped with ‘contemporary’ trains in the form of Alstom Coradia Liner multiple-units.

One factor that may have influenced the outcome of the pilot tender was the requirement for the rolling stock to be maintained either at SNCF’s Technicentre in Nantes or at a new facility to be provided by the concessionaire. According to an assessment by strategy consultants Atlante, this would leave an operator reliant on SNCF, or facing high capital costs at the outset for maintaining relatively few trains. It would also be obliged to hand any such facilities over to the state at the end of the contract.

The government is in any case planning to step up the number of services on both routes in 2022. While the number of trains is currently reduced because of the pandemic, the usual three Nantes – Bordeaux return workings a day would become four, while a third round trip would be added to the Nantes – Lyon service. The two routes together handle around 1 million passengers a year, but Nantes – Bordeaux alone reportedly incurred a deficit of €13∙7m in 2018.

The government retains direct responsibility for eight other TET routes, and six régions have assumed responsibility for a further 17. The state has undertaken to fund replacement of outdated rolling stock on all TET routes at an estimated cost of €3∙5bn.