The impossible task of reviving rail freight


The train had not had such a rating for a long time. In his televised interview of July 14, the President of the Republic indicated that he wished “Massively redevelop rail freight”, night trains and short lines, “Because all that saves money” and of “Reduce our emissions” of greenhouse gases. The declaration by Emmanuel Macron is not a surprise: it responds to the requests of the citizens’ convention for the climate, of which he has undertaken to take up 146 of the 149 proposals.

In 2018, most of the 9,000 km of small lines escaped the closure recommended by the Spinetta report, the government preferring to initiate discussions on a resumption by the regions of these rarely profitable daily trains. However, SNCF Réseau estimates that the investments needed until 2028 to upgrade them will be more than 7 billion euros.

As for night trains, there are only two left: Paris-Briançon and Paris-Portbou. “Emmanuel Macron talks about [leur] back? I say chick!, responded Karima Delli, President (EELV) of the European Parliament’s transport committee. But we do not finance trains with fine speeches. So we want 7 billion like for aviation. “

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Efforts to make

Money will also be needed for rail freight, sick of frantic road competition long before the health crisis. It only handles 10% of freight traffic, far behind Germany (18%), Austria (32%) and Switzerland (35%), while the tonne transported emits 9 times less CO2 than with road freight. Jean-Pierre Farandou, CEO of SNCF, one of the main players in the sector, announced its revival in February.

But the strike against the pension reform and the Covid-19 crisis further weakened Fret SNCF, a public limited company which is no longer immune to bankruptcy. To attract shippers, it will require “train paths” which do not force these trains to run at idle speed, aid for transhipping truck-train containers as well as “isolated wagon” (tailor-made traffic), even temporary free use of the rail network. These are the efforts to be made, depending on the sector, to double its market share in 2030.

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