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Fitch Sees Lack of Investment Hampering French Railways
France’s railway network may suffer from a lack of future investment as the country seeks to reduce its debt and cut the deficit, said Christophe Parisot, primary analyst of the national railway operator SNCF at Fitch Ratings.
“The French state spends directly about 10 billion euros ($13 billion) per year in the railway sector,” Parisot said in a phone interview today. “All of this remains of course constrained by the need to cut deficits and reduce the debt burden. State endowments are being pressured, and this represents a threat for future investments in the railway.”
The network has come under scrutiny after a train crash that killed six people near Paris three days ago showed the deterioration of some moderate-speed train lines, spurring a debate about a lack of network maintenance as France faces ballooning levels of public debt.
“We need to do much more for the maintenance of regular rail lines,” President Francois Hollande said in an interview broadcast live on TF1 and France 2 yesterday. The accident was caused by an “equipment breakdown,” Hollande said. “The first conclusion is that we must favor regular railway lines” in coming years, he said.
Hollande’s comments come five days after the French government said it would slow the development of high-speed train lines to upgrade intercity connections.
The technical glitch that caused the July 12 crash involved a 10-kilogram (22-pound) piece of metal linking two connecting tracks, which “broke away,” said Guillaume Pepy, chairman of SNCF, adding that technical and judicial investigations will focus on the malfunction.
The crash marked the country’s worst rail accident since 2002. Sixty-two people were injured, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the prefecture of Essonne, the local government authority.
“This catastrophe took place on a railway that was qualified as ‘sick’ in 2011 by Pepy himself,” said Willy Colin, spokesman for the French association of railway users, or Avuc, in an interview with AFP on July 12. “What happened since then in terms of maintenance? The oldest trains of the fleet, the most vulnerable are running on these rails.”
The train, headed to Limoges from Paris, left the tracks at 5:14 p.m. on July 12 at Bretigny-sur-Orge, about 28 kilometers (17 miles) south of Paris, with 385 passengers on board, SNCF said. It was traveling at 137 kilometers per hour when the accident took place, Jacques Rapoport, chairman of RFF, the owner of France’s rail network, told reporters.
All trains traveling to and from Paris-Austerlitz station were canceled until further notice, SNCF said on Twitter on July 13. Traffic on the RER C regional line will be “very disturbed in the coming days” as well as services going to the center and southeast of France from the station, SNCF said today in an e-mailed statement.
The crash came six days after a train operated by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd. jumped the tracks at Lac-Megantic, Quebec. The runaway train, which was hauling 72 cars of crude oil, exploded, killing as many as 50 people.
In October 2006, a passenger train from Luxembourg and a French freight train collided in the Lorraine region of northeastern France, killing five people and injuring 20. In November 2002, a fire on a passenger train traveling from Paris to Munich killed 12 passengers and injured another 12.
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