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.