All good Keynesian pump priming though, right?

Aware that France’s provincial stations – some of them ancient – came in various shapes and sizes, SNCF had asked the regional rail operator, Réseau ferré de France, or RFF, which is in charge of all French tracks, 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 20 cm wider than their predecessors.

However, in an oversight that would cost it dear, 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 operator was subsequently warned by the Association of Regions of France that these trains risked getting stuck.

The worst-hit region is the southwestern Midi-Pyrenees, whose president has only just forked out 500 million euros modernising the local rail network. In the southeastern city of Lyon, platforms were widened as the new regional trains were at risk of colliding when they passed.

After the embarrassing faux pas, RFF discreetly started “shaving” the problematic platforms, and has to date widened 300 of them.

Confirming the reports of the blunder, SNCF and RFF admitted that the wider trains, built to “meet the public’s expectations requires the modernisation of 1,300 platforms out of a total of 8,700 in the French railways”.

No, really, they did. They went and bought trains too wide for the network they were going to run the trains on.

18 comments on “All good Keynesian pump priming though, right?

  1. They’ll be lucky if it’s just platforms. If opposing tracks are too close together…

  2. How does widening a platform make _more_ space for a train? Is this some arse-about trainspotting terminology? I think we should be told.

  3. You just know that if this had been a private rail operator, the leftists would be all over it.

  4. This shows us why we need central planning and government control, instead of the disorganisation caused by markets?

  5. Right who needs a national standard gauge? Much better in UK
    when companies all had different track widths.Broad gauge, which would have allowed for wider carriages, was much the best and would have triumphed if competition had been allowed to continue to work its reliable magic.

  6. Richard – “This shows us why we need central planning and government control, instead of the disorganisation caused by markets?”

    Government – too big to fail.

    And in France they really are the best and brightest. Ordinary French graduates do not get into the good Ecoles, especially those connected with engineering. The best of which must be the Roads (and hence I assume railways).

  7. DBC Reed, you’re a leftist and hence an idiot, but also ignorant.

    A simple cursory look at wikipedia would have told you that the standard gauge was adopted in 1846 in the UK with the gauge act.

    Moron.

  8. monoi – “A simple cursory look at wikipedia would have told you that the standard gauge was adopted in 1846 in the UK with the gauge act. Moron.”

    Yes he is, but it did take government action to make it happen.

    But governments get things wrong. The British wanted to build a railway from Cape to Cairo. So South Africa and Rhodesia got a 3 ft 6 inches gauge like a lot of colonies. But the Germans built a 1000 mm railway in what is now Tanzania. So the British government built 1000 mm railways in Kenya and Uganda so they would link up. But then in Sudan they decided to build three different gauges – Kitchener used the 3 feet 6 inch gauge. But then the Geniza scheme decided to use 2 feet. And finally someone else thought that neither of these were sensible and built a 600 mm railway. Of course the Sudanese railway was built to link to Egypt. What does Egypt use? The British standard 4 foot 8 and a half inches.

    It could be worse. Australia used to have several states with several different gauges.

  9. The wikipedia article explains that a standard existed pretty much of its own accord based on Stephenson’s standard, which itself was based on the usual wheel size and interaction with boiler requirements.

    The government intervened afterwards.

  10. To be fair, when all is said and done and the platforms shaved and the tracks moved farther apart, the French train system would still kick the shit out of the British one. The French grande ligne trains *are* damned good, state-run or no.

  11. It should be noted that the train order wasn’t actually a mistake at all, according to my French friends. It was almost certainly deliberate, because capital funding had been approved for the new trains, but would have had to be separately applied for in order to widen the platforms. Much simpler just to order trains that are ‘too wide’, and force the platform-widening scheme through without recourse to democratic oversight.

    Still hang ’em all, but for different reasons.

  12. Hey, lads – pause to think. DBC Reed is right for once.
    The GWR wider gauge was better for passenger and large freight trains. Stephenson designed an engine, not a track and he designed the engine to fit into the pre-existing track width for (mostly colliery) trucks so monoi is *wrong* to talk about Stephenson’s standard.

  13. Huh? They don’t have a standard loading gauge?

    How come they haven’t had massive disasters?

    Very odd.

  14. Why make such a fuss about cutting a bit of the edge of a railway station platform? A simple job for a nice big diamond blade circular saw mounted on a railway carriage. It sound as if the sub-contractors are just fleecing the state by making a simple job sounds complicated, and given that most politicians are not engineers you can sell them all kinds of bullshit. They even believe in global warming and carbon taxes while freezing their arses off!

  15. @ Tim,

    Ask the French people about the french railways. You might hear a very different tune.

  16. john77

    It is Stephenson’s standard since he used it to build load of railways. Rennie would have gone for 5ft, Brunel we know went for 7ft. But Stephenson chose 4ft 81/2 and stuck to it . So its is his gauge.

    While gauge is standard for most of Europe the loading gauge (the envelope the trains can fit into – bridges, tunnels, platforms) is different in the UK and until recently different all over Europe. In 1870 when the Prussians invaded France they ran their trains right into France (same gauge) but the chimneys and safety valves of their engines were knocked off by the lower French bridges.

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