Following the SNCF (French Railways) celebrations marking 30 years of the TGV last September, a colloquium on the theme of high speed and its prospects was held in Paris on 14 February, organised by the Avenir Transports association and the Association of European Cities and Regions with High Speed Rail, in partnership with SNCF, RFF and several other key partners. The aim of the colloquium was to reflect on the TGV model 30 years after its creation, to see if the model could pursue its course of development and, if so, how, and to what extent this French business model could be exported.
The colloquium, attended by over 200 people from the railway, political and financial sectors, and by elected representatives and participants from research bodies and universities, was concluded by French Secretary of State for Transport Thierry Mariani, following useful presentations and exchanges providing material for debate involving the main stakeholders in high speed rail.
Among the speakers were Mr Matthias Ruete, Director-General of DG MOVE (Mobility and Transport) at the European Commission, Bernard Soulage, Chairman of the Association of European Cities and Regions with High Speed Rail, Guillaume Pepy, President of SNCF, Hubert du Mesnil, Chairman and CEO of RFF (French railway infrastructure manager) and Chairman of EIM, and Mr Henri Poupart-Lafarge, President of Alstom Transport.
Matthias Ruete, Director-General of DG MOVE, reiterated the European Commission’s commitment to high speed by listing the ambitious goals that is it pursuing in this area, in particular to triple the length of high speed lines in Europe by 2030, the need to connect all of Europe’s airports to high speed rail by 2050, and the aim to ensure that 50% of road freight over distances of 300 km switches to rail and waterway by 2050. These objectives, which can only be achieved by engaging the relevant players and by developing innovative funds to finance them, are based on the four “I”s, namely Infrastructure, Internal market, Innovation and International development. Infrastructure influences mobility, and in order to radically transform the transport system, it is important to make better use of a fit-for-purpose network. Overall, investment in transport infrastructure has a positive impact on economic growth, creating wealth and employment, and encourages trade, geographical access and mobility of people. The planning process should be undertaken in such a manner so as to ensure maximum positive results for economic growth and minimal adverse effects on the environment. Matthias Ruete particularly stressed the aspect of innovation, stating that “the time has come to organise research differently”. Research and innovation policy in the area of transport should focus increasingly, and consistently, on developing and rolling out the key technologies required to make the European transport system modern, efficient and user-friendly.
Guillaume Pepy, President of SNCF, reminded participants that SNCF operates half of all high speed train journeys in Europe. He addressed the matter of the “TGV business model” and asked whether the model should not be recast, before moving on to argue in favour of reinventing the TGV model, in particular by increasing use of the existing network to boost traffic flows, by better combining TGV, Intercités and TER (regional) services, and by improving use of the rolling stock fleet (500 trainsets).
Hubert du Mesnil, Chairman and CEO of RFF, highlighted a “basic truth” – namely the national and overall success of the TGV – but also stressed the need to go further. He encouraged all railway stakeholders to adopt Matthias Ruete’s four “I”s as their own, stressing in particular the aspect of innovation and the wide scope for improvement in this area. He also underlined that RFF is currently establishing a centre for railway research and innovation. Moreover, he developed the idea that it was necessary “to invent a new method of managing projects in France” to further involve Europe, the State and the regions in large railway projects, and that it was also necessary “for Europe to guide these stakeholders to a greater degree”, particularly on the issue of track access charges.
Henri Poupart-Lafarge, President of Alstom Transport, reminded participants that Alstom was in the process of continuing to improve its rolling stock, even if the user did not feel the direct effects, attaching a great deal of importance to flexibility/interoperability as one of the areas for improvement.
Thierry Mariani, French Secretary of State for Transport, concluded the colloquium by going back over the statistics released on the occasion of the Railway Symposium (Assises ferroviaires) held recently in France, i.e. 80% of French people have taken the TGV at least once. He also reiterated that it was necessary, as part of the Grenelle environmental initiative, to prioritise high speed projects.