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.


  1. Piotr Maciej Kaczynski

    It should be a zero-waste approach. Re-use the older trains. So before scrapping them, organise a market for used trains, like it is the case of, say, for anything else? And only those trains which are of no interest to anybody should be scrapped. All out of use trains should be placed on such a market, and this should be the obligation before scrapping TGVs or other.

  2. German railways are selling used trains:

  3. Claudio VdA

    This blanket ban sounds great.
    Are you in contact with some MEP in order to try to transform this idea in something concrete? (E.g. someone from the Greens)

  4. Greater Manchester had a series of second hand buses, lots of life left in them, but to prevent people from buying them and acting as competitors, their engineers basically destroyed the engines and sent them for scrap. This would be 40-odd years ago. Plus ca change…

  5. Pingback: Eurotunnel considers making rolling stock available to new cross-channel rail operator – Outre-Manche

  6. qhfreddy

    I’m not entirely certain what legal basis the EU would have in implementing such a rule. That said, scrapping the TGV sets is a great way for SNCF to avoid other companies competing with them. Anyone else has to certify new trains to operate on french lines (see renfe for example struggling to get certifications) which is a costly affair. By making sure the trains they don’t want any more are out of circulation they stop other companies from picking them up and using them (since they would already be certified and potentially have a pool of trained drivers). So in theory this can be seen as an anti-trust measure.

    • You can justify it using the legal base for environmental protection in the Treaties. Sure, you’d need a new Regulation to do it, but legally it is not hard. Politically it is hard, because SNCF (and hence the French state) would furiously oppose it.

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