THE French government’s environmental agency Ademe has selected five projects to develop lighter trains and technology as part of the Digitalisation and Decarbonisation of Rail Transport programme launched in July 2021.

At the time, Ademe called for Expressions of Interest (EoI) for the development of lighter trains and related technology which would make both rolling stock and infrastructure cheaper to purchase and maintain while  using less energy while making rail more attractive to passengers.

The programme’s main objectives are:

  • the development of lightweight trains suitable for operation of marginal branch lines thus avoiding closure
  • digitalisation of rail infrastructure to increase capacity on the existing network, and
  • increased automation of freight trains, contributing to the government’s objective of doubling traffic by 2030.

Projects totalling €1bn were submitted. The government will provide €75m of funding to support the following projects:

  • Train Léger Innovant (Innovative Light Trains) - will cost €50m and involves Alstom, CAF, Texelis and Thales plus the rail campus at the University of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in Saintes, where tests will be conducted. The plan is to develop a modular train and new frugal track practices designed to cut overall costs by 30%. The first train will operate in 2029.
  • Draisy - a €30m project involving French National Railways (SNCF), Lohr and the Grand Est and Hauts-de-France regions. A train the size of a bus will be constructed with 30 seats and 50 standing spaces and equipped with batteries. The train is designed for eventual automation. The project aims to halve the cost of rail transport per passenger kilometre and could be used to equip between 40 and 80 small lines. The first tests are expected to commence in 2024.  
  • Ecotrain - an €8m project led by Stratiforme, and supported by Socofer and the Occitanie region. This is a battery-powered autonomous shuttle that can carry passengers or freight. The plan is to test the train in Occitanie.
  • Flexmove - a €30m project led by Akka Technologies and SICEF, and involving Alstom and Systra. The project involves the development of an autonomous light vehicle based on an electric motor for minor lines which are either little used or no longer in use. Tests will take place on the Quillan - Limoux branch line in the south of France, and
  • SIG4LFDT - a €25m project, led by Alstom and involving the rail campus at Saintes. This is a low-cost signalling system for lightly-used lines. The main objective is to halve the cost of deploying a signalling solution and to reduce the cost of operation and maintenance by at least a third compared with the traditional solution.