Together with the existing TGV Atlantique line, this will create a continuous high-speed artery from Paris to Toulouse and northeast Spain. Existing lines southeast of Bordeaux and north of Toulouse will be upgraded to allow regional trains to use the new line between the two cities.

The decision allows French Rail Network (RFF) to launch a public enquiry into the project, which is planned for the middle of next year, with a view to achieving a declaration of public utility by the end of 2014.

The ministry's announcement validates proposals put forward on January 9 by a steering committee following what RFF describes as an innovative dialogue and studies undertaken during the last four years. More than 40% of the route for the new lines was realigned to meet local concerns.