THE Occitanie regional council has announced it is supporting two projects under the French government’s plans to develop light rail passenger trains, with the aim of safeguarding and developing rural branch lines by reducing operating and maintenance costs.

The government is currently processing Expressions of Interest (EoI) from companies for projects to develop light passenger trains, with Occitanie supporting projects from Ecotrain and Ferromobile.

Ecotrain consists of a 12-tonne battery-powered driverless train with seats for 30 passengers. The train’s batteries would be charged from solar panels in stabling areas or stations. Like Taxirail, which recently won its first contract for a feasibility study in Normandy, Ecotrain would only be able to operate on lines separate from the conventional mainline network.  

A freight version, Microfret, is also planned and could be tested on the Castelsarrasin - Beaumont-en-Lomagne line in Occitanie from 2023. Both passenger and freight versions could be introduced in 2025-26 and would be able to operate in multiple through “platooning,” where vehicles run close to each other without being coupled together. The project has received an €8m grant from the government’s “Relaunching France” post-Covid-19 scheme. One of the companies collaborating in the Ecotrain project is Socofer, which builds locomotives and track maintenance vehicles near Tours.

The Ferromobile will be a road vehicle that will be designed to also operate along rail lines. A project dubbed Flexmove was launched in January 2020 to develop the multimodal vehicle, followed by the creation of the Ferromobile Engineering, Construction and Operation Company (SICEF) by Belgian engineering company AKKA Technologies in February 2021 with the aim of designing, building and operating Ferromobile.