PLANS for a direct TGV line between Marseille and Nice have been scrapped by rail network firm Réseau Ferré de France (RFF) in favour of upgrades on the present line to give higher-speed links.
Seven years of arguments about the best route led LGV Paca project leader Jean-Michel Cherrier to say it was not possible to create a "pure" ligne de grande vitesse.
Opposition from vineyard owners in the Var had stymied the plans and Cherrier said the initial aim was "impossible". They had to adapt the project to the area to be covered and improve the network, which was close to saturation.
That means no 350kph TGV trains but express trains on the new track should, he said, average 200kph to put Nice within the target of one hour from Marseille.
RFF upgrades to the Paca network would mean the present route being widened to three or four tracks and high-speed trains being mixed in with local RER traffic. The project is aimed to be finished by the target date of 2023 and at the same projected price of between €18 billion and €20bn.
Cherrier said the target had been to cut times for the 200km journey between Nice and Marseille (it takes 2hr30 at present) to compete with autoroute travel and that it would now do that by making the TER network perform better.
It would mean widening sections of track between Les Arcs and Le Muy in the Var, the Huveaune valley east of Marseille, and the Aubagne lowlands.
He proposes having seven express trains between Marseille and Toulon and nine between Marseille and Nice - a model similar to that which works in Ile-de-France.
This was the best-adapted plan for the three major cities of the Mediterranean coastline wherre traffic had increased by 4% a year since 1996. There were now 40 million passengers a year and this was expected to grow to 80 million by 202 and 110 million by 2040.
The ultimate aim of TGV links serving the arc of the Mediterranean from Barcelona to Marseille, Nice, Genoa and Milan was still, he said, in place. The project would eventually put Nice within four hours of Paris, instead of 5hr40 at present.