French train operator orders trains that are too fat for stations

French satirical magazine Le Canard Enchaîné revealed today that the train operator SNCF has spent $21bn on 2,000 trains that are too wide for many regional platforms.

Christophe Piednoël, the director of communications at Réseau Ferré de France (RFF), which owns the track network, told France’s Channel Two television that about 300 platforms had already been reconfigured, and that work to "plane down" 1,000 more would have to be undertaken.

He said the trains were between one and two centimetres too wide for the stations, and that work on them would cost about $70m out of RFF’s annual budget of $5.5bn.

Piednoël said the mistake had been made come about when SNCF gave the wrong specifications to the Alstom and Bombardier, the companies that made the trains.

According to Le Canard, SNCF based its order on information supplied to it by RFF, which did not take into account the dimensions of stations that were built more than 50 years ago.

SNCF played down the significance of the mistake, saying that only one out every six stations in France would have to be "planed down".

It also maintained that only 1,000 of the new TER trains had been ordered from Alstom and 860 from Bombardier, making a total of 1,860 trains that were too wide.

Thierry Mariani, the French secretary of state for 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 for the mix up.

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