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Red faces at French rail companies over too-wide trains

media The right size- trains at Paris's Gare du Nord station Reuters/Charles Platiau

France’s rail network is to spend at least 50 million euros to reduce the size of 1,300 platforms after realising that new trains are too wide for many of the country’s stations. The trains are entering into service between 2013 and 2016.

The situation is “comically dramatic”, Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier commented after weekly paper Le Canard Enchaîné exposed the waste in its edition published on Wednesday.

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He blamed a failure of coordination between the national rail company, SNCF, and the company that manages the permanent way, RFF.

Cuvillier has launched a plan to merge the two companies, despite opposition by rail unions.

The 341 new trains – 182 built by French company Alstom, 159 by Canada’s Bombardier – are to start operating over the course of the next two and a half years.

The problem arises from the fact that the stations were built at a time when there was no standard nationwide distance between platforms, meaning that adjustments must be made to1,300 of France’s 8,700 platforms.

Work has already been done on 300.

“It could meaning shaving a few centimetres off a platform […] it could mean moving an electric control cabinet that was a little too close to the edge of the platform,” an RFF representative explained.

“It’s as if you bought a Ferrari that you wanted to park in your garage and you realised that your garage is not exactly the right size for your Ferrari to fit in because you’ve never had a Ferrari before.”

The two companies say the work will cost 50 million euros, although Le Canard Enchaîné puts the figure at 80 million euros and rising.

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