The appointment was validated by SNCF Network’s board of directors on January 7 and is awaiting approval by France’s transport regulatory authority ART - formerly Arafer - by the end of the month.

Lallemand has led Infrabel since the founding of the infrastructure manager in 2005 when infrastructure management was split from operations, which remained the responsibility of Belgian National Railways (SNCB).

Lallemand oversaw a signalling rationalisation programme as well as the continuing national ETCS rollout during his tenure. Infrabel is also pioneering a number of digital technologies with the goal of improving efficiency and performance.

In addition, Lallemand has served as an administrator of SNCF Network’s predecessor, French Rail Network (RFF) and high-speed operator Thalys, and as an independent director of RATP Dev.

With a 30,000km network, 54,000 employees and a turnover of €6.4bn, SNCF Network is significantly larger than Infrabel. The challenges facing Lallemand are equally more pressing. The infrastructure manager is burdened by a €50bn debt although under the terms of French rail reform from January 1 the company is an SA, with public capital, which should improve control of this debt. The state is set to recover €25bn of the debt this year at taxpayers’ expense with another €10bn tranche expected in 2022.

The infrastructure manager is also set to play a decisive role as the French network is opened to passenger operations competition from 2021.

Lallemand will replace Mr Patrick Jeantet, who is joining Keolis as executive chairman. His appointment at SNCF Network follows the nomination of Ms Marlène Dolveck as general manager of SNCF Stations and Connections and Mr Christophe Fanichet as CEO of SNCF Passenger on December 24 as new SNCF president, Mr Jean-Pierre Farandou, shapes a fresh SNCF management team.