The move is worth “several billion euros” and is a “concerted plan of action”, said junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari. It will come into force before February 15 this year.
The plan will see rural regions working with train network SNCF Réseau to “decide the future of small train lines”. It will apply to around 9,000km of lines - around 32% of the national network.
Mr Djebbari said the idea was to “preserve the maximum number of our small lines serving the country as possible”.
The three categories will comprise lines that are “structurally important” for the country; lines on which major renovation is already planned; and others. For the latter category, the regions will need to “experiment” with “innovative solutions adapted to each line, in terms of technical details and governance”, Mr Djebbari said.
The plans come in light of the new transport law, the Loi d’Orientation des Mobilités (LOM), which is aiming to give back control of certain train lines to their local regions, the junior minister said.
The minister also explained that he would also like to see improved infrastructure and signalling on rural railways.
He said: “Alongside this, I would like the State to push for a good line of light trains, to give TER [services] the role they deserve, including on small lines across the country.”
Yet, Mr Djebbari rejected calls by several senators to publish the full report of the small lines railway audit that was ordered in January last year by the government, when now-ecology minister Elisabeth Borne was transport minister.
Ms Borne asked the commissioner, François Philizot, to complete a total audit on the country’s small train lines, and suggest solutions to troubled services on a case-by-case basis.
But Mr Djebbari said: “The time is no longer for reports, the time is for action."
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