SNCF (the French national passenger railway company) was very proud of the new fleet of passenger trains they’d ordered from manufacturers Alstom and Canada’s Bombardier … until it became clear that SNCF had been given the wrong dimensions to fit in many of the older French passenger stations:
It is a minor miscalculation, but one that will cost the French taxpayer a fortune.
France’s national rail operator SNCF — which runs its prestigious TGV fast trains — has sparked hilarity, anger and ridicule after building a new generation of regional trains that are too wide for 1,300 stations, meaning platforms will have to be “shaved” to stop them getting stuck.
The appalling blunder, which the French transport minister on Wednesday dubbed “comically tragic”, has already reportedly cost the state-controlled SNCF some €50 million (£40.5 million), sparking uproar at a time of austerity.
It was revealed by Wednesday’s Canard Enchaîné, the satirical weekly, whose cartoon showed a line of commuters on a busy platform being told: “The Paris-Brest train is entering the station. Please pull in your stomachs.”
The mistake was made as part of a €15 billion makeover of France’s Regional Express Trains, or TER, shared between Alstom, the French trainmaker and Bombardier, its Canadian rival.
Aware that France’s provincial stations — some of them ancient — came in various shapes and sizes, SNCF had asked the regional rail operator, Réseau ferré de France, or RFF, which is in charge of all French tracks, to work out the right measurements for the new trains.
Upon their advice that station widths varied by around 10cm in all, SNCF concluded the new trains could be 20 cm wider than their predecessors.
However, in an oversight that would cost it dear, the operator forgot to factor in some 1,300 stations built more than 50 years ago that are far narrower than today’s norms. “SNCF’s wise engineers forgot to verify the reality in the field,” wrote Le Canard.