Railway Operators in France

Passenger and freight operating companies

Track building/maintenance companies


SNCF - Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français

Network length, gauge and eletrification (2007):

The very first railway services in France date to back to 1830/1831, on Lyon-St Etienne. Railway construction quickly boomed, so that the amount of (private) concessionaries would rise to 27 in the late-1840s. The Imperial government merged most of them into 6 bigger concessionaries in the 1850s: The Treaty of Frankfurt 1871 severed from Chemins de Fer de l’Est all the railway lines in Alsace and Northern Lorraine . These passed to the Kaiserliche General-Direktion der Eisenbahnen in Elsaß-Löthringen (EL), a mere branch of the Imperial Ministry for Transport in Berlin.
In 1877, The French State merged some local (bankrupt) concessionaries in the West into Chemins de Fer de l’État (État), which absorbed Ouest in 1909. Under the Treaty of Versailles 1919, EL passed to the French Government, which re-registered it as a self-contained, wholly state-owned company, Chemins de Fer d’Alsace-Lorraine (AL). In 1935, PO took over Midi and became PO-Midi.
The Nationalisation Act 1937 merged those 6 concessionaries (PLM, PO-Midi, État, Nord, Est, AL) into a single company, SNCF SA, effective from 01/01/1938, for a timeframe of 45 year. Originally, the French State would hold 51% of this Public Limited Company, while the shareholders of the 5 former private concessionaries held the remaining 49%, to be bought back later in yearly instalments.
In 1983, as the last instalment under the Nationalisation Act 1937 had been paid off, SNCF SA became wholly-owned by the French State, and was re-registered as an EPIC (Établissement Public à caractère Industriel et Commercial), i.e. a public body with some commercial freedom.

SNCF began to be sectorised in 1992, in line with rising EU legislation. In 1997, a new public body, Réseau Ferré de France (RFF) took over infrastructure, although SNCF has retained maintenance and traffic-regulation since then. In 1999, sectorisation was stepped up, with dedicated allocation of rolling-stock, while locomotives got a prefix depending on their operating sector.
In 2007, SNCF encompasses 6 operating sectors:

In 2012 the night train activity (Corail Lunéa), CIC and locomotive-hauled long-distance trains (Corail Téoz, previously operated by VFE) merged into Intercité, leaving VFE with almost only TGV services.

International Mainline traffic:
Most of French-International mainline traffic is now managed by joint subsidiaries of SNCF-VFE (held by SNCF-Participations SA, a listed company) and neighbouring national operators, namely: It is expected that the same operating pattern will also apply to: In both cases however, open-access is not ruled out.

Other mainline international services are directly run by SNCF-VFE jointly with other operators, without any joint-subsidiary:

SNCF-VFE also runs international services on its own, with no direct involvement of any other operator: SNCF-VFE does conversely not directly take part in the commercial operation of other international mainline services running in France , namely: In 2007 80.3 billion passenger-km were travelled with SNCF (in 2006 78.8 billion, +1.9%). Fret SNCF produced 42.6 billion tonne-km (in 2006 41.2 billion).

Website: http://www.sncf.fr/

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Ligne de Cerdagne

Network length, gauge and electrification (1999):

The Cerdagne line, better known as “Le Train Jaune (El Tren Groc)” owing to the livery applied on its rolling-stock, was opened in stages by Compagnie du Midi from 1910 until 1927.
Under the Nationalisation Act 1937, SNCF took this line over on 01/01/1938. Operation remains entrusted to SNCF, with regional passenger services part of the TER Languedoc-Roussillon network. Freight traffic ceased in 1974. Infrastructure passed to RFF in 1997.
This line features steep gradients (up to 6%) and tight curves, while it serves the highest station in France (Bolquère-Eyne, 1592m). Long-term projects include a diversion through the Spanish enclave of Llívia and to Puigcerdà (Spain), along with an extension to La Seu d’Urgell (Spain) and possibly Andorra-la-Vella (Andorra).

Website: http://www.ter-sncf.com/

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Ligne de Savoie

Network length, gauge and electrification (1996):

Ligne de Savoie was opened by Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée [PLM] from 1901 until 1908, as so as to serve the Chamonix area and to provide a new international route to Switzerland . This line features the steepest gradient (9%) in adhesion-only operation (Chedde-Servoz). St Gervais-Chedde features a dual-gauge track (1000mm + 1435mm, 4 rails) for freight traffic.
Until 1985, this line was the only way to reach Vallorcine from the rest of France in Winter days, through a tunnel (1883m) under the Montets Pass (1461m). In 1985, the Montets Tunnel was rebuilt so as to accommodate a single-lane road alongside the single track, with a view to conveying road traffic whenever the Montets Pass was closed. Trains and cars may not run through this tunnel at the same time, however.
This line passed to SNCF on 01/01/1938 under the Nationalisation Act 1937, while RFF took over infrastructure in 1997. It currently accommodates regional services operated by SNCF and which are part of the TER Rhône-Alpes network. International services to/from Martigny are operated jointly with Transports de Martigny et Régions [TMR SA (ex MC)].

Website: http://www.ter-sncf.com/

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BA - Chemin de Fer du Blanc-Argent

Network length, gauge and electrification (2002):

Blanc-Argent opened in 1901/1902, and would originally connect Le Blanc with Argent-sur-Sauldre (190km). The concession was awarded to Chemin de Fer Paris-Orléans [PO], but the concessionary later entrusted operation to Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Blanc à Argent [BA], a family private company. The Nationalisation Act 1937 did not alter this structure, as BA would merely operate this line on behalf of SNCF as from 01/01/1938.
This line was cut back in stages to Salbris-Luçay le Male, while freight traffic was withdrawn in 1989, owing to the change of gauge required in Salbris. Passenger services are part of the TER Centre network, while infrastructure passed to RFF in 1997. Kéolis SA, a company controlled by SNCF, has recently purchased BA. The remaining infrastructure was completely upgraded in 2012/2013 to allow 70km/h running.
The surviving 67km route has sections `north' from Salbris (the connection to the Paris – Vierzon main line) to Romorantin – the area `capital' and south from Romorantin to Valencay, crossing the Tours – Vierzon main line at Gièvres.

Website: http://www.compagnieduba.fr/

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CFC - Chemins de Fer Corses

Network length, gauge and electrification (2002):

In 1878, the central government approved plans for 4 metre-gauge railway lines in Corsica: This network was owned by a local company, Chemins de Fer Corses [CFC], while operation was originally entrusted to Chemins de Fer Départementaux [CFD], which had been set up in 1881 so as to operate secondary lines.

The Casamozza-Porto Vecchio line was severely damaged in 1943, and has been closed down since then. As CFD was nearing bankruptcy, the central government directly took over operation from 1945 until 1965. In 1965, operation passed to Société Auxiliaire des Chemins de Fer Secondaires [SACFS]. Notwithstanding a more pro-active policy (investments, faster services), SACFS went bankrupt in 1972, and was replaced with CFTA as a provisional operator from 1972 until 1983.

In 1983, the central government franchised operation of CFC to SNCF, while infrastructure remained vested in the State, not even passing to RFF in 1997. In 2001, the Corsican council re-franchised CFC to SNCF for 9 years (2002/2011), following an open competition where only SNCF had submitted a bid. From 2012 the network is managed by a mixed capital body (15% SNCF).

The network culminates at 906m in Vizzavona, with a tunnel (3916m) though the continental divide. Passenger traffic is primarily driven by tourism, such as coastal services on Calvi-Île Rousse (“Tramway de la Balagne”), and also by urban services on Bastia-Casamozza. Extensive tracks renewals began in 2004, in an effort to raise speeds and cut journey times, particularly for long-distance services. New diesel trainsets have now entered service, after major teething troubles.
At a later stage, the Bastia-Porto Vecchio line is to be re-instated in stages, while rail-air services may also serve the airports of Porretta (Bastia) and Campo dell’Oro (Ajaccio). Freight traffic has been suspended since 2006, owing to the poor condition of shunters (now all withdrawn).

Website: http://train-corse.com/

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CMB - Compagnie du Mont-Blanc SA

Network length, gauge and electrification (2000):

Compagnie du Mont-Blanc SA is a public limited company set up in 2000, as a merger of various concessions in the Chamonix area: 3 ski areas (Breven-Flégère, Balme, Grands-Montets), Aiguille du Midi, and 2 rack-railway lines: Whereas the former was built with a view to attracting tourism to the Sea of Ice as from day 1, the latter was originally intended to terminate very close to the top the White Mount (4807m). Both lines were electrified in 1953 and 1956 with 11kV-50Hz.

CM has been operating all-year-round since 1993, while TMB is restricted to Le Fayet-Bellevue in winter. CMB is held for 71% by institutional investors, while the remaining 29% is publicly traded at Euronext Paris.

Website: http://www.compagniedumontblanc.fr/

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CP - Chemins de fer de Provence (Veolia Transport)

Network length, gauge and electrification (2002):

In 1885, the central government conceded the construction and the operation of 3 lines for 99 years (1885/1984) to Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Sud de la France [SF]: In 1925, SF was renamed Chemins de Fer de Provence [CP]. In the inter-war years, traffic sharply collapsed, so that operation would be suspended in 1933 and would resume only in 1935, after (steam) loco-hauled formations had been replaced with (economical) DMUs, while the central government had taken over the original concession as CP had gone insolvent.
Toulon-St Raphaël and Colomars-Meyrargues closed down in 1948 and 1952. The only line left was Nice-Digne, whose branches were also axed at the same time.

In 1968, the central government transferred this line to Syndicat Mixte Méditerranée-Alpes [SYMA], a newly-founded public local body which included:

In 1972, the central government and SYMA signed a concession contract of 99 years (1972/2071). In 1987, the regional council of PACA (Conseil Régional Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) joined SYMA, which itself assigned its operation to Société Nouvelle des Chemins de Fer de Provence [SNCP], a local public body.
In 1999, SYMA franchised the line to CFTA (later renamed Connex, then Veolia Transport) for 15 years (1999/2014). In 2007, the regional council of PACA succeeded to SYMA, with no substantial impact on the current franchise.

This line culminates at Thorame-Haute (1023m), very close to the tunnel of La Colle-St Michel (3457m), which links the valleys of Verdon and Var with each other. Passenger traffic is primarily driven by suburban services on Nice-Carros, along with tourism throughout the whole route.
Long-term plans include track renewals, improvements on Nice-Carros suburban services (with a branch on the Var right bank), and ultimately the transfer, re-instatement and dual-gauging of the SNCF branch Digne-St-Auban (for Marseilles-Briançon TER services), closed since 1989.

Website: http://www.trainprovence.com/

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ECR - Euro Cargo Rail

Network length, gauge and electrification (2005):

Euro Cargo Rail was founded in 2005 as one of the first French open-access freight operators. They cooperate with EWS from the UK for drivers and locomotives. Several Class 66 diesel locomotives from EWS are running for ECR in France but these are due to be replaced by new locomotives of the same type.

Website: http://www.eurocargorail.com/

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Eurotunnel and Europorte

Network length, gauge and electrification (1994):

In March 1985, the French and UK Governments launched a joint invitation to tender for the design, funding, construction and operation of a fixed link through the Channel, between the surroundings of Calais and Folkestone.
4 bids were submitted on 31st October 1985: Unsurprisingly, the French and UK governments opted for Eurotunnel on 20th January 1986, as this project was technically more mature and safer, and actually very close to the still-born project of 1973.
On 12th February 1986, France and the UK signed the Treaty of Canterbury, which allowed for the construction of the fixed-link. Unlike the project of 1973, this Treaty expressly banned any public funding whatsoever, meaning that the concessionary would have to fund the project for 100%, through debt and/or equity-finance.
On 14th March, both governments signed the concession contract (55 years, 1987/2042) with the preferred joint bidders, i.e. France-Manche SA and The Channel Tunnel Group Ltd. On 13th August 1986, Eurotunnel was set up through the incorporation of 2 new companies: Eurotunnel SA (France) and Eurotunnel plc (UK), whose shares were pooled in units on a 1+1 basis. Ownership of France-Manche SA passed to the former, and that of The Channel Tunnel Group Ltd. passed to the latter, but FM and CTG remain jointly and severally bound by the concession contract.
Shares and bonds were listed as from 1987 on the Stock Markets of Paris, London and Brussels . Construction began in late-1987/early-1988 and was complete in 1993. In 1993, the concession was extended from 55 to 65 years (1987/2052).

Revenue operation began in stages in 1994: SNCF-BR freight services (1st June), Eurotunnel freight shuttles (25th July), Eurostar services (14th November), Eurotunnel car shuttles (22nd December), while coach shuttles were introduced on 26th June 1995.
In 1997, the concession was extended from 65 to 99 years (1987/2086). In 2004, Eurotunnel set up Europorte 2, a subsidiary to operate open-access long-distance freighters between France and Britain .
Eurotunnel is currently held for 28% by institutional investors, while the remaining 72% is publicly traded.

In 2009 Eurotunnel acquired the freight activities of Veolia in France. Freight transport is divided in Europorte France (former Veolia Cargo France), Europorte Link (former Veolia Cargo Link), Europorte Proximity (former CFTA Cargo) and Europorte Channel (former Europorte 2).

In 2009 1.917 million cars passed through the tunnel (+10,000) and 55,000 coaches (-1,000). The number of trucks on shuttle trains was 39% less than in 2008, 12% less freight trains passed the tunnel (2403 trains). With Eurostar 9.2 million passengers travelled under the Channel.

Website: http://www.eurotunnel.fr/

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Le Petit Train de la Rhune

Network length, gauge and electrification (1996):

Projects for a rack-railway to la Rhune (905m) date back to 1908, with a view to attracting tourism to this scenic location. The central government conceded in 1912 the construction and the operation of a railway line between St Ignace-La Rhune to a local council (Conseil Général des Hautes-Pyrénées), which itself assigned this concession to Société Anonyme des Chemins de Fer Basques [SCFB] for 69 years (1913/1982). In 1914, SCFB was renamed Voies Ferrées Départementales du Midi [VFDM].

Revenue operation began in 1924. In 1982, the original concession was extended until 1995. In 1989, VFDM was absorbed by Société Hydro-Électrique du Midi [SHEM], a subsidiary of SNCF, actually set up by former Compagnie du Midi in the inter-war years to back up electrification of its own network through the construction of hydro-electric plants in the Pyrenees.
In 1994, the local council (Conseil Général des Pyrénées-Atlantique) awarded the operation of this line to CFTA (renamed later Connex, then Veolia Transport) for 18 years (1995/2013). Since 1935, operation has been suspended from November until March.

Website: http://www.rhune.com/

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RATP - Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens

Network length, gauge and electrification (2013):

This company operates the city metro in Paris and, together with SNCF, trains on the RER lines around Paris. They also operate low-floor trams on new lines. After extensions line T1 now runs from Noisy-le-Sec to Les Courtilles in Asnières, line T2 from Porte de Versailles to Pont de Bezons, and Line T3 from Pont de Gagliano (Boulevard Victor RER) to Porte de La Chapelle. This last line is operated in two parts, with T3a running from Pont de Gagliano to Porte de Vincessens and T3b from Porte de vincesses to Porte de La Chapelle. In November 2013 line T7 (11.2km) was openend between Villejuif and Athis-Mons.

In 2007 446.6 million passengers travelled with RATP on RER trains (in 2006 451.9), producing 4.8 billion passenger-km (in 2006 4.9 billion).

Website: http://www.ratp.fr/

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RDT13 - Régie Départmentale des Transports des Bouches-du-Rhône

Network length, gauge and electrification (2003):

RDT13 was set up in 1913, and is actually a public body owned and managed by a local council (i.e. Conseil Général des Bouches-du-Rhône). Along with local coach services, RDT13 operates freight rail services on local branch-lines between Marseilles and Avignon: In 2005, RDT13 also took over local freighters on Colombiers-Cazouls from SNCF, close to Béziers.

Website: http://www.rdt13.fr/

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Thello

Network length, gauge and electrification (2011):

In December 2011 Thello started operating night trains between Paris in France and Italy, at first to Milano and Venice. Thello is a cooperation between Veolia in France and Trenitalia in Italy. It replaces the Artesia cooperation between SNCF and Trenitalia.

Website: http://www.thello.com/

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VFLI - Voies Ferrées Locales et Industrielles

Network length, gauge and electrification (2002):

This new company (1998) operates freight trains over branch lines and industrial lines. The company is owned by SNCF. In 2004, VFLI owned 181 locomotives (75 locomotives, 88 diesel shunters, 18 rail-road shunters). All the stock was supposed to be transferred to a new society called GEMAFER by 1/01/2003, VFLI hiring locos from this society.
In 2001 VFLI took over HBL, which used to operate coal trains in the Lorraine area. The HBL main line is Creutzwald-Béning-Forbach. The HBL operations were renamed in VFLI-Cargo (which is now also an open-access operator).
VFLI now also operates all trains former run by VFL. VFL operates six freight-only branches off the Bordeax-Dax main line, radiating from Ychoux, Labouheyre, Laluque and Dax. Since 1998 they also shunt in Rhône-Poulenc(Rhône) and Ciments Français(Marne). Another VFLI subsidiary is VFM (Voies ferrées du Morvan). The line Autun-Avallon was take over from CFD in 1/06/2000, and is now operated with 2 ex CFD english locomotives and the 3 ex SNCF 66600. The Compagnie des Chemins de fer départementaux (CFD) was founded on 07-02-1881 in Paris, with Belgian capital, to operate ligth metre gauge railways in France. The company operated railways in the following departments : Ardeche, Charentes, Corsica, Dordogne, Haute-Loire, Indre et Loire, Lozere, Manche, Saone et Loire, Seine et Marne, Yonne. In december 1938, CFD also took over tramways de la Vendée from SNCF, and they started to operate some standard gauge lines for SNCF in Côte d'Or, Saone et Loire, and Indre et Loire. Most of the metre gauge network was closed in the 40's and the 50's. The last networks were Seine et Marne (closed in 1959), Lozere (closed in 1968) and Vivarais (closed in 1968). Corsica network was take over by CFTA after WW 2 but is now part of SNCF.

VFLI operated the following sites in 2004 : Rhodia factory in Saint Fons, Renault in Douai, Calcia in Couvrot, Lafarge in Cusset, Elf in Lacq, Port Edouard Herriot in Lyon, ALZ in Genk (Belgium), Lafarge in Romania, The Autun-Avallon line for SNCF, The HBL network, freigth line around Mont de Marsan for SNCF, Laluque-Tartas and a short branch from Ychoux (ex VFL), papeterie de Condat, Smurfit SCF in Facture, PSA in Trnava (Slovak Republic).

Website: http://www.groupevfli.com/

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Track building/maintenance companies

Colas Rail

Network length, gauge and electrification (2010):

Colas Rail is the new name for former SECO-RAIL, and is a subsidiary of the Colas group. SECO-RAIL was a subsidiary group of a holding company, Desquenne et Giral. The headquarter is at Nanterre, but the workshops are at Les Mureaux on the north side of the Paris St.Lazare-Mantes=la=Jolie line, about halfway between Les Mureaux and Elisabethville.
Until 2003 SECO-RAIL used to be called SECO DG. In May 2006 they bought the small track maintenance company Vecchietti, based in St. Pierre-des-Corps marshalling yard near Tours.
Colas Rail is now also licensed to operate open-access freight trains. For this they own new diesel locomotives of types G1206 and G1000 from Vossloh.

Website: http://www.colasrail.com/

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DVF - Dijonaise de voies ferrées

Network length, gauge and electrification (2005):

This track maintenance company is based in Dijon

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ETF - Européenne de Travaux Ferroviaires

Network length, gauge and electrification (2002):

This company was formed by COGIFER and Drouard to compete against the larger SECO DG and TSO. Each company owned 50%. The fleets of COGIFER, Drouard and ETF have now been integrated. Former Drouard locomotives are only known by their mainline approval numbers.

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Fouchard

Network length, gauge and electrification (2005):

This is another small track maintenance company.

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Frasca

Network length, gauge and electrification (2005):

This is another small track maintenance company, based in Saint-Denis.

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Genifer

Network length, gauge and electrification (2005):

This is another small track maintenance company.

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Meccoli

Network length, gauge and electrification (1998):

The small track maintenance company Meccoli is based at the depot just south of St. Pierre-des-Corps marshalling yard near Tours, together with Vecchietti.

Website: http://www.meccoli.net/

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PB - Pichenot-Bouillè

Network length, gauge and electrification (2000):

A small track maintenance company based at Trappes near Paris, has just one locomotive.

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Toprail SNC

Network length, gauge and electrification (2005):

This is another small track maintenance company.

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TSO - Travaux du Sud-Ouest

Network length, gauge and electrification (1998):

This family company has its headquarters and workshops at Chelles, to the south of Vaires SNCF stabling point, which is in the marshalling yard south of the Paris Est-Meaux line, east of Chelles-Gournay.
In 2014 TSO took over smaller competitor E-Génie.

Website: http://www.tso.fr/

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Last update: 30-08-2014