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France switches from road to rail

State plans to spend €170bn over next three decades to get motorists to leave cars at home

A RETHINK on transport priorities over the next 20-30 years will see France switch away from an emphasis on road travel towards a massive investment in new rail routes, river and public transport.

The national transport plan, SNIT (Schéma National des Infrastructures de Transport), proposes spending e170 billion on improving infrastructure, but only 4.5% of that sum would go on roads.

It will also see more money being spent on improving ports than on extending airports.

Pressure to meet the targets identified by the 2007 Grenelle environmental round table means the government now feels that the country’s 12,000km of autoroute is just about right for its needs – and long-planned extensions such as widening the Lille-Paris or Bourgogne-Nice motorways will not now go ahead.

However, €65bn to create an extra 2,300km of high-speed railway line will provide a massive shift of resources – and mean more freight transport being taken off the roads and switched to rail, river and canal.

The strategy for the plan follows four lines: optimising the existing network to avoid building new; improving how the network serves outlying regions; improving its efficiency; and reducing the carbon footprint.

New rail “autoroutes” are planned, which will include links down the Atlantic coast (Tours-Bordeaux, with branches from Bordeaux to Toulouse, Montpellier, Nimes; Bordeaux-Spain and Poitiers-Limoges), Perpignan-Luxembourg and Dijon-Lyon-Turin.

Full-term plans for the rail network would see an extra 4,000km of track being laid (including the 2,300km of high-speed lines).

A new sea autoroute will link France and Portugal, Spain and the North Sea, to compete with the other main European ports such as Rotterdam.

The biggest boost to the canal network will be work on the 106km Canal Seine Nord Europe, which will link the Oise at Compiègne with the Dunkirk-Escaut canal at Cambrai and create new transport nodes. In all, 370km of canal and river network will be covered by the new plan.

An extra e7bn will be invested before 2022 to get freight off the roads and increase the amount of non-road freight traffic from 14% to 25%.

Public transport is a major beneficiary, scooping up 32% of the planned budget; €450m is already being spent on putting together proposals for projects outside the Ile de France.

The plan envisages the state playing a greater role in funding public transport projects in all sizes of community.

Air transport, despite playing a much smaller role, is not forgotten, but the only big project is the new airport for Nantes to replace the town-centre site of the present Nantes-Atlantiques.

Grand-Ouest Notre-Dame-des-Landes Airport is forecast for 2015 and will be able to handle four million passengers a year.

Road projects, too, are not entirely cut off from funding, but works will only be done to improve safety, cut jams and bottlenecks, and open up areas with no current access.

The total aim is to convert road and air miles into rail miles: 10 billion tonnes of freight transport will move from road to rail by 2030; 2.5bn car users will switch to rail; 2bn air passengers will go by train.

It will also mean a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 100 million tonnes of CO2 over 50 years, two million tonnes a year.

Lastly, it could also lead to the creation of 65,000 jobs a year for 20 years.

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