The tender was launched in January 2019, with the aim of issuing a new contract by 2022.  

However, according to reports in the French media, the other bidders - French transport group Transdev, DB subsidiary Arriva and US-Belgian joint venture RegioRail - have all withdrawn due to a lack of clarity in the tender documents, a lack of financial guarantees and doubts over disruption caused by engineering work on the lines. 

Our sources discovered that the documents issued to bidders were only 30 pages long, compared with 1000 pages issued for the tendering of regional services in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. Numerous requests for clarification have also gone unanswered. 

The situation has not been helped by the Covid-19 crisis, which has resulted in short-term organisation and finance problems for the bidders. Transdev says it will concentrate on contracts for regional services.  

The government has not replied to press questions of whether SNCF will be granted a new contract or if the tendering process will be re-started, possibly after rail traffic has normalised following the Covid-19 pandemic. Rail trade unions have called for tendering to be abandoned and for SNCF to operate all rail services in France.  

For an in-depth report on the current status of passenger liberalisation in France, see the December issue of IRJ, p24