French railway firm ridiculed as new trains too big for platforms
France's national rail operator SNCF has sparked hilarity, anger and ridicule after building a new generation of regional trains that are too wide for 1,300 stations, meaning platforms will have to be "shaved" to stop them getting stuck.
The appalling blunder, which the French transport minister yesterday dubbed "comically tragic", has already reportedly cost the state-controlled SNCF some €50m, sparking uproar at a time of austerity.
It was revealed yesterday by 'Le Canard Enchaine', the satirical weekly, with a cartoon that showed a line of commuters on a busy platform being told: "The Paris-Brest train is entering the station. Please pull in your stomachs."
The mistake was made as part of a €15bn makeover of France's Regional Express Trains, or TER, shared between Alstom, the French trainmaker, and Bombardier, its Canadian rival.
The operator yesterday insisted that only 341 new trains had been ordered, but 'Le Canard' said the figure was 1,860.
"SNCF is talking about the number of trains already delivered, as there have been lots of delays, which would explain the difference," said Alain Guede of 'Le Canard'.
Aware that France's provincial stations came in various shapes and sizes, SNCF had asked the regional rail operator, Reseau ferre de France, or RFF, to work out the right measurements for the new trains.
Upon their advice that station widths varied by around 10cm in all, SNCF concluded the new trains could be 20cm wider than their predecessors.
However, the operator forgot to factor in some 1,300 stations built more than 50 years ago that are far narrower than today's norms. "SNCF's wise engineers forgot to verify the reality in the field," wrote 'Le Canard'.
The worst-hit region is the south-western Midi-Pyrenees, whose president has only just forked out €500m modernising the local rail network.
In the south-eastern city of Lyon, platforms were widened as the new regional trains were at risk of colliding when they passed.
RFF has started "shaving" the problematic platforms, so far widening 300 of them. (© Daily Telegraph, London)