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French rail: poor, slow and decrepit

"The alleged superiority of French railways is frequently trotted out as a given. I dispute this."

Your editorial in January, "French Rail should not follow British Track" betrays either unfamiliarity with the rail systems of either country or anti-Thatcherite prejudices against privatisation or both.

The alleged superiority of French railways is frequently trotted out as a given. I dispute this.

It can be conceded that France has an enviable TGV network mainly by reason of the size of the country and the wide open spaces available to build such lines.

Apart from this there are practically no local train services except for the RER for the Parisians. I live in Normandy, less than 100km from Paris and my nearest station is Gisors.

The service from here is poor, slow, decrepit and very limited. The last train from Paris leaves at around 20.40.

Compare this with services in all directions around London - well you cannot compare them. But I can leave London at 23.00 at night, after the theatre, if I wish and head for Kings Lynn via Cambridge (direct) and Ely. The same applies at virtually any hour of the day for services to Ashford, Kent.

These are the lines I know and cite by way of example but it applies to services virtually all round London.

By contrast, recently, the line to Forges les Eaux, north of Gisors, has been finally closed so that all services from Paris now end at Gisors, apart from a bus link.

Beeching made huge cuts and I well remember as a child the local village train services in Kent which existed prior to Beeching, now largely tourist lines. But since privatisation in the UK, passenger numbers have increased dramatically as has punctuality and efficiency of the trains, as Network Rail gets to grips with its renovation and upgrading programme and new trains are brought into service by the train operators.

Contrary to your assertion, France needs exactly that - privatisation - to open up its rail networks to competition to improve its local networks which are, frankly, rubbish.

It is a scandal, making mockery of so-called European competition rules that state-owned companies, such as SNCF and EDF can operate businesses in the UK with impunity, but the same freedom is not available to British companies in the rail and energy sectors in France.

Chris Murray

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