The service was abandoned by SNCF in 2014 but the Railcoop co-operative believes it can make it a success and plans to restart services in two years. Alexandra Debaisieux, Railcoop’s deputy managing director said: “The lines are still maintained and used by SNCF but only for local services. There is no train between the two large cities, the only option is to wait for a connection. Our trains will be comfortable, with separate carriages for those who want to work quietly using Wi-Fi and those who are travelling in groups. Each will have a goods wagon so people can load trunks, suitcases, surfboards, skis or bicycles without problems.”
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Passenger rail services in France are due to be opened to all operators from next January, while freight services have been open for 10 years. German intercity coach company FlixBus said before the Covid-19 lockdown that it was planning to run low-cost passenger services with slow trains between Paris and Bordeaux from 2021.
Ms Debaisieux said: “Our philosophy is different from theirs, which is ticket-driven, like many airlines. We want to make sure the service is there and we are sure that the passengers will come.” Operations will start next year with a freight line operating between Figeac, in the Lot, and Toulouse.
Interest has come from companies needing to move quarried gravel and scrap metal. “It is an area where there has been rail transport for many years, while roads are still fairly undeveloped,” said Ms Debaisieux.
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Interest in 'green energy'
A business plan, drawn up after a favourable consultant’s report, forecasts 690,000 travellers a year for three trains a day in each direction. Passengers are expected to be people who see no sense in the SNCF’s suggested route of a TGV to Paris, then another to Lyon, which will do the journey in slightly less time if there are good connections. The idea came after Alexandra’s younger brother Nicolas, the co-op’s managing director, a high-flying civil engineer, left city life to settle in the small town of Cajarc in the Lot.
“He became aware of a group of people who were interested in projects combining green energy and principles with a need to improve society,” said Ms Debaisieux. By June the 1,200 co-operative members had raised €330,000 of the initial starting costs of €1.5million, but companies and local authorities are also considering becoming members and partners.
There is a target to have 3,000 co-operative members, each with at least a €100 share in the company by the end of the year. So far, Région Occitanie and Grand Figeac have joined as partners and the co-op is confident that companies and other local authorities will join too. “Obviously, having green principles of using rail to reduce greenhouse gases is important, but there are all sorts of other reasons to boost rail travel, such as boosting tourism and bringing life back to rural areas.”
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