AFTER a comprehensive review of France’s pipeline of proposed projects, the Infrastructure Policy Board published its recommendations on February 1 for the development of the country’s transport network over the next 20 years.


NAMar18In his 215-page report, the board’s president, former mayor of Caen, Mr Philippe Duron, presents the government with a choice of three scenarios for the implementation of major infrastructure projects. Under these scenarios, infrastructure funding authority AFITF would be allocated between €48bn and €80bn over two decades for investment in road, rail, and inland waterway projects. Publication of the report follows a three-month consultation, which was held last autumn.

“Not everything is possible,” Duron says in his introduction to the report. “It is necessary to make a choice to define the priorities among the numerous projects the territories are hoping for.”

Scenario 1 is effectively a steady-state option intended to avoid allocating significant additional resources to transport projects, with an allocation of €48bn for AFITF for the period to 2037. This is an extrapolation of the current government investment budget of around €2.4bn per year planned for 2018-2020, around 25% above the annual expenditure in 2012-2016.

However, the report warns that this option will do little to alleviate the investment backlog on the conventional rail network and leaves little scope for decongesting bottlenecks. Furthermore, major projects could be paused for at least 5-10 years, pushing the completion of regional high-speed links far into the future.

The report says Scenario 2 has been designed to “meet the priorities set by the President of the Republic,” and with a pricetag of €60bn over 20 years, requires the commitment of significant additional funding for transport. This represents an increase of €600m per year over the Scenario 1 baseline, to around €3bn annually. This is 55% higher than the expenditure in 2012-2016, but provides “consistent and sustained” funding for the enhancement of the network.

Scenario 2 favours investment in the modernisation of existing infrastructure and the “improvement of daily mobility,” while still providing sufficient funding to advance the initial stages of major new-build projects.

Scenario 3 would accelerate the measures in Scenario 2 to better meet regional and local expectations, albeit at a significantly higher cost.
This option would require an investment of around €80bn by 2037, equivalent to an annual budget of some €3.5bn in the period to 2022, increasing to €4.4bn a year in the decade to 2032, before falling back to €4bn a year thereafter.

The report questions the viability of sustaining funding at this level given the current financial and budgetary framework, which requires parity between the state and local and regional sources in the financing of major infrastructure projects.

These three scenarios seek to address four priorities:

  • improve the quality of networks
  • develop the performance of urban transport and combat traffic congestion and pollution
  • reduce territorial inequalities by ensuring better access to mobility for medium-sized towns and cities, and
  • develop efficient freight infrastructure and services to support the French economy.

Stronger hubs

At the opening of the Bretagne-Pays de la Loire high-speed line last year, French president, Mr Emanuel Macron, signalled the government’s intention to shift the focus away from big-ticket projects such as high-speed lines and instead prioritise improvements to “everyday transport.”

Work to decongest key hubs in Paris, particularly Gare du Lyon, Bercy and Austerlitz, scores highly in all three scenarios and the report identifies the remodelling of Saint Lazare station, the first phase of the new Paris - Normandy line and the Massy - Valenton link south of Paris as essential projects for improving the performance of the rail network in Ile-de-France.

The report also highlights the need for improvements around Lyon, which is identified as a key hub in the national network due to the density and variety of regional, long-distance and freight traffic using the city’s rail infrastructure. The Mobility 21 Commission had previously highlighted the need to provide additional capacity and resilience in the network around Lyon. The Lyon Urban Area Bypass (CFAL) is a key component of this, but under the steady-state Scenario 1 the project would make little progress before the mid-2030s. However, if the government chooses to adopt Scenario 2, major capacity enhancement works in Lyon could be brought forward to the 2020s, coinciding with the construction of the new line between Lyon and Turin (which is outside the scope of the report).

Another scheme highlighted by the report as vital to improving network performance is the Paris-Normandy New Line project (LNPN), which would relieve “continuous saturation” and “major difficulties” on the Paris - Mantes - Rouen/ Caen/Le Havre axis. The report says LNPN would complement the Eole project to extend Paris RER Line E to Mantes-la-Jolie, and integrate efforts to decongest both Paris St Lazare and Rouen stations.

NAMar18tableThe Infrastructure Policy Board says it is necessary to mobilise funding for LNPN, which would require €450m from the state before 2026, “regardless of the financial scenario being considered.”

The need to fund major capacity enhancements and resilience measures around key nodes brings everything back to the “choice” Duron alludes to in his introduction. As Table 1 shows, the timescales for expanding the high-speed network in southern and southwestern France are likely to be stretched considerably. Even under the high-investment Scenario 3, the Montpellier - Perpignan high-speed line would not be completed until 2032, and under the more likely Scenario 2, the opening date for the final section of this line could still be two decades away.

Under the Grand Southwestern Railway Project (GPSO), the high-speed network is due to be extended from Bordeaux to Toulouse by 2024 and Dax by 2027, but the report casts considerable doubt over the current schedule for the implementation of this project. Even Scenario 3 would not deliver the Bordeaux - Toulouse section until 2027 and under Scenario 1 the Agen - Bordeaux section would not open before the late 2030s. All three scenarios push Bordeaux - Dax back by more than a decade.

“The board does not dispute the case for a high-speed connection between the capital and the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis, and supports the fastest-possible realisation” the report states. “On the other hand, it expresses a much more nuanced view on the Bordeaux - Dax line.”

The board considers addressing capacity constraints on the approaches to Toulouse and Bordeaux to be the most valuable features of GPSO, and it therefore recommends implementing the project in phases, starting with the sections closest to the two cities.

Some members of the board questioned whether most of the anticipated benefits of the new Bordeaux - Dax section could be achieved at much lower cost by upgrading the existing line. New infrastructure is only considered viable here if the existing line reaches capacity, and traffic is unlikely to reach this level in the next 20 years. Beyond Dax, the Basque Y project will extend the Spanish high-speed network to the French border by 2022.

Transport minister, Mrs Elisabeth Borne, has now begun a series of meetings with regional presidents, community associations, passenger groups, and NGOs to gauge reaction to the report. The government will then select its preferred scenario, which will provide a basis for programming and financing of the infrastructure component of the forthcoming mobility bill.

Speaking at the unveiling of the report, Borne said the country now has an opportunity to set a clearer agenda for infrastructure investment. “The break on new major projects gave us time to think collectively about the investments we wanted for our country,” she says. “We had to get out of this spiral of multiplying unfunded promises, which our country has suffered from. For too long, we promised projects with no idea how to finance them. These projects were pushed back indefinitely, we ended up with a lot of frustration among elected officials and fellow citizens who no longer believed in the promises they were given.”

With continuing pressure on the public finances, it now falls to the government to decide how it will balance the need to tackle the investment deficit on the conventional network with the construction of new infrastructure. If the Duron report makes one thing clear, it’s that the political promises of recent years cannot be sustained with a steady-state approach to funding.