French ART report confirms post-pandemic rail progress
Over 400 kilometres of rail tracks were taken out of service between 2019 and 2021, according to the annual review by the French Transport Regulation Authority (ART) published this week. However, the intensity of rail line usage is finally approaching pre-Corona levels.
The report presents the evolution of the rail freight and passenger markets in France, still impacted in 2021 by the coronavirus health crisis. It sheds light on several major issues in rail transport policy, including the quality of infrastructure and services, and the monitoring of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Over the past five years, investment efforts have significantly rejuvenated the national rail network, and the average age has dropped by more than two years. Investments in the national rail network have increased in 2020 and 2021, especially on high-speed lines, and amount to a total of 5.4 billion euros. However, this has not yet reduced the average level of track dilapidation, especially on high-speed lines, which still have a significant need for future renovation.
The contraction of the national rail network continues with the closure of almost 1,200 kilometres of obsolete and little-used tracks in five years. As a result, the average age of conventional lines has been lowered by more than 2 years since 2015. On the other hand, the average condition indicator for high-speed lines (LGV) still appears to be deteriorating, particularly on the most heavily used route (LGV Sud-Est), which will require renewal work in the coming years.
In 2021, track maintenance and surveillance costs, which have been stable for a year and have fallen by 5 per cent since 2019, are concentrated in particular on the most heavily used network but are on the rise for tracks on the core network excluding the LGV. In addition, in 2021, maintenance costs on the RATP RER network amounted to 140 million euros and investments on this same network to 250 million euros.
Direct revenue from rail passenger activities decreased by 30 per cent compared to 2019. This decline was more pronounced for international activities, with a 65-per cent drop than for domestic TAGV, which saw a drop of only 28 per cent. However, revenues from the ‘Transport express régional ‘(TER) and Transilien activities increased by 6 per cent and 4 per cent respectively, due to a sharp rise in public operating aid.
In addition, the report states that TER commercial revenues fell sharply for the majority of regions, and by over 20 per cent in Centre-Val de Loire, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d’Azur and Hauts-de-France. However, public support has enabled revenues to be maintained at 2019 levels for all regions except Centre-Val de Loire and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.
Opening up to competition
Last year, the majority of regions validated a timetable for opening up their regional rail services to competition. The opening up of passenger rail services outside the PSO did not begin until the very end of 2021, with the arrival of Trenitalia. In 2022 it remains limited to the presence of a single alternative operator, in addition to the offers of the incumbent operator SNCF Voyageurs, and its subsidiary OSLO, which operates the “Ouigo Train Classique” services. The year 2021 also saw the resumption of night train offerings in France.
Modal share and passenger traffic
In 2021, the overall recovery of rail passenger transport appears to be more dynamic in France than in most European countries. Passenger transport nevertheless continues to be affected by the health crisis in 2021, particularly due to the gradual recovery of public services and international services.
The modal share of passenger rail transport is 8.6 per cent in 2021. This is an increase compared to 2020, but remains 1.3 per cent lower than in 2019, to the benefit of road transport. In 2021, rail passenger traffic is 76 per cent of its 2019 level, while rail passenger transport supply (in train/ kilometres) has returned to 94 per cent of its 2019 level in 2021, with a strong variability of use depending on the region.
Even though the train services in Paris (Transilien) and the international services are still operating normally, the number of passengers using them has decreased significantly. Compared to 2019, the number of passengers for Transilien is down by almost one-third and for international services, it is down by 58 per cent.
The Regional TERs have also not seen much improvement in the number of people using them. In some areas, the number of subscribers has dropped by more than 35 per cent between 2019 and 2021. Furthermore, the number of people using the train in 2021 has decreased significantly. For RER lines, it has reduced by around 31 per cent to 38 per cent, and for line N, it has decreased by as much as 41 per cent.
Improved services and GHG emissions
Cancellation rates for late trains are decreasing in 2021. The reduction in the number of trains on the national rail network has also improved the regularity and punctuality of high-speed services, as well as most regional PSO services, with the notable exception of the Hauts-de-France region. According to the report, punctuality at the terminus of passenger traffic is up by an average of 2 percentage points compared to 2019, particularly domestic TAGV and Transilien.
In 2021, the rate of completion, i.e. trains that have actually run compared to the trains scheduled, is 86 per cent. The reliability rate of TER traffic (cancellations and programming) has returned to the 2019 level, 8 per cent, with improvements having been made in most regions. Similarly, the punctuality rate of TER traffic is higher than 2019 levels for all regions. However, the rate of train deprogramming remains high, both in the first half of the year, marked by a period of closure and in the last half of 2021.
Finally, the drop in traffic in 2021 was accompanied by a 7 per cent drop in measured greenhouse gas emissions, “notably due to an increase in the use of dual-mode rail equipment by the TER activity.”