French train size blunder costs 50m euros

Train operator SNCF has admitted that it failed to verify measurements it was given before ordering its new rolling stock.  As a result of the mistake, the latest 2,000 trains on order will be too large for many of the platforms they are due to arrive at.

The costly mistake has sparked an urgent operation costing €50m to modify 1,300 platforms on the regional network. SNCF has admitted that one in six regional train stations is affected. In some cases it has discovered two trains can no longer pass each other on adjacent lines.

The new regional trains were intended to upgrade the network and were based on measurements provided by national rail operator RFF. However, RFF sent SNCF the dimensions of stations built less than 30 years ago. It was then discovered that the trains were several centimetres too big for stations built more than 50 years ago.

Despite SNCF claiming only 341 trains were affected, the news magazine Le Canard Enchainé insisted a total of 1,860 trains that were too wide for many of the stations they are to service.

The French minister of transport described the situation as absurd and a "comic drama". He blamed the previous centre-right administration's decision to separate the rail network from the train network.

Christophe Piednoël, spokesman for RFF, told France Info radio: "It's as if you have bought a Ferrari that you want to park in your garage, and you realise that your garage isn't exactly the right size to fit a Ferrari because you didn't have a Ferrari before. We discovered the problem a little late … we are making our mea culpa."

SNCF and RFF said in a joint statement on Wednesday: "Putting this network of new generation and larger trains in order to satisfy public demand will require the modernisation of 1,300 platforms out of the 8,700 in the French rail network."

The economic newspaper Les Echos had little sympathy for either party commenting: "It could have been an arithmetic exercise from the old days."

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