French TGV goes wrong way for 250km after signalling error

Passengers were first to notice mistake. A bus to get some travellers to the right destination then got lost

A French high-speed train or TGV in the countryside
The 300km/h train went 250km in the wrong direction

A French TGV took a 250km trip in the wrong direction on Wednesday (June 5) that was only corrected when puzzled passengers questioned conductors. The SNCF has blamed the mistake on a signalling error.

A trip from Paris to Besançon on the TGV normally takes two hours, but for passengers on the TGV 6741 that departed Wednesday morning at 06:52, it took more than twice as long.

The train was supposed to stop at Montbard (Côte-d’Or), before heading towards Besançon via Dijon, however passengers soon noticed they were not reaching their stops.

They questioned the conductors who asked the driver what was happening. It was then announced that the train had taken a wrong turn due to a signalling error.

The TGV, which can go up to 300km/h, went 250km in the wrong direction, towards Lyon.

It was redirected back towards Dijon via Châlon-sur-Saône, with passengers for Montbard put on a bus. 

In a comedy of errors, the driver of this bus also got lost - despite having a GPS - meaning the passengers reached Montbard at noon instead of the TGV’s planned 8:00.

As the TGV reached Besançon just over two hours late, passengers were all eligible for a 50% reimbursement of their ticket.

“Delays because of animal collisions, accidents or breakdowns, yes, but due to a signalling error, I’ve never heard of such a thing,” one passenger told Côte-d’Or news website Bien Publique.

Read more: Buying train tickets in France: Can you purchase onboard? 

The SNCF’s signal problems

France’s vast network of 1,500 signal boxes can cause delays to rail traffic when signals fail due to local power cuts, blown fuses or communications problems. Some of the boxes date back more than 80 years.

"We have boxes from the 1930s or 1940s with giant levers,” SNCF CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou told Capital in May 2023. "It’s the wild west! [...] we can’t keep it like this."

Over the course of 2024, the SNCF is introducing a digital system to upgrade its systems at a cost of €300m, which will rise to over a billion euros over 15 years.