THE French transport ministry has announced that private and third-party operators can leave their annual energy contracts with infrastructure manager SNCF Network on June 1 to seek alternative electricity suppliers for the remainder of 2023.

The move follows growing pressure on SNCF Network after it announced a four-fold increase in the cost of electricity for traction to more than €500 per MWh at the beginning of this year.

SNCF Voyageurs, which is officially separate from SNCF Network, negotiated a separate contract for the entire French National Railways (SNCF) Group in 2023 with a much more modest price rise.

Arfa, which represents private operators in France, says that the infrastructure manager agreed its energy supply deal “at the worst possible moment” and simply passed on the increase in costs to its captive customers. It says under the current arrangements, the government’s target to double rail freight market share in the 10 years to 2030 is in jeopardy.

It is unclear whether private operators will have to pay penalties to SNCF Network for breaking the contract. Arfa believes that it can negotiate a price of between €150 and €200 per MWh.