This week we learned that part of Europe’s night train renaissance is going to be built on… some couchette carriages that date from 1965. Yes you read that right – some 56 year old carriages are going to be deployed by ÖBB for its new Wien-Paris night train. This further underlines the problem I outline in this earlier post – that a shortage of rolling stock is one of the factors limiting services being scaled up.
Yet we also learnt this week that SNCF is currently in the process of withdrawing its TGV Atlantique 300km/h trains – spring chickens in comparison to the ÖBB couchettes, as these date from 1988-1992. And what is SNCF doing with them? Scrapping them. As it has done with some of the older TGV Sud Est already, and Eurostar has done with some of their older TMST trains. Apparently the even newer TGV Reseau sets dating from 1992-1996 are next to go. And it’s not just TGVs – SNCF has 400 locomotives parked up at Sotteville ready for scrapping.
Meanwhile a startup company “Le Train” has today announced it wants to run services on Arcachon – La Rochelle, and wants to run on part of the high speed line north of Bordeaux (and has applied for paths), and for that purpose needs… high speed trains. Its boss Alain Getraud – who used to work for SNCF – reckons he can solve this problem, but would not be drawn on details when talking to International Rail Journal. If SNCF proceeds to scrap its older TGVs Getraud and “Le Train” are going to be left high and dry.
This highlights the outright stupidity of the current rail setup in the European Union. SNCF would sooner scrap its TGVs than let some other company run them, and in the meantime other operators are scrambling around to get their hands on whatever rolling stock they can.
Just think what you could do with a fleet of TGVs – especially the tri-voltage ones. All sorts of routes SNCF does not serve could be offered. You could even investigate converting them into night trains. Or failing that deploy them somewhere else in Europe – Serbian railways has a 200km/h track but no 200km/h trains to run on it between Belgrade and Budapest at the moment for example (and both that and TGVs are 25kV AC).
So what’s the solution?
The EU should place a blanket ban on the scrapping of all rail rolling stock. Every rail firm would need to indicate 12 months ahead of a locomotive, DMU, EMU or carriage’s planned end of life that it will come available, and the stock could then be auctioned. Minimum sale price would be the cost the stock would otherwise receive from scrap metal recyclers. If after the 12 month period there are no takers, off to the scrap heap it goes. If for some reason there is reason to not resell the train – damage for example, or the presence of asbestos or something like that – the rail firm could apply to an independent agency (a task for the European Rail Agency perhaps?) to allow the train to be directly scrapped.
And yes, some rail firms are a bit more enlightened than others in this regard – DB has its “Used Train” portal, and CP has been restoring older trains and putting them back into service rather than scrapping them. But this matter is too important to be left to the benevolence of rail firms – if rail is to increase its market share in Europe then we are going to need every available train, and if incumbent operators like SNCF will not scale up services themselves, then let someone else have a go. A blanket ban on scrapping trains could be a solid step in that direction.