FRENCH National Railways’ (SNCF) passenger business SNCF Voyageurs has announced that its new fleet of 28 Oxygène inter-city trains will not enter service before the end of the first quarter of 2027.

This follows the discovery by manufacturer CAF of two technical issues during validation trials at the Velim test circuit in the Czech Republic, where testing of the first Oxygène train has been underway since July 2023.

CAF France managing director, Mr Alain Picard, confirmed last month that “technical difficulties” were discovered with the braking system and the eight traction motors on the Oxygène train in February this year. Testing was immediately brought to halt.

The braking system was suffering from excessive brake pad wear, which is in the process of being rectified, says Picard. However, the traction motors will need to be returned to their manufacturer in Japan, Mitsubishi subsidiary Melco, for further analysis.

CAF has now informed SNCF Voyageurs of its revised schedule for delivering the Oxygène fleet and putting it into service.

The first train for reliability testing is now due to be delivered at the end of this year. Starting in February 2026, approval trials with three trains will take place over three to four months on the French national network. This will include the lines where the new fleet will operate: Paris - Clermont-Ferrand and Paris - Limoges - Toulouse.

CAF hopes to obtain the Authorisation to Place on the Market (Apom) that will enable the Oxygène to enter service at the end of 2026, which should see the new fleet begin revenue service with SNCF Voyageurs at the end of the first quarter of 2027.

The 28 new trains were ordered in 2019 to replace the locomotive-hauled Corail coaches that currently operate the TET inter-city services to Clermont-Ferrand and Toulouse that are financially supported by the French government.

Each 10-car Oxygène EMU has 420 seats, 317 in second and 103 in first class, and 20 more than the trains they will replace. Two Oxygène trains operating in multiple will offer a total of 840 seats.

The new trains will be completely accessible to passengers with reduced mobility, offering wheelchair spaces in both second and first class for the first time on a French long-distance train.

Passenger amenities include onboard Wi-Fi as well as individual power sockets and USB ports at all seats in first and second class.

The €700m cost of the 28 new trains is being met by the French government, which is also providing €100m for new fleet maintenance facilities at Ivry and Villeneuve-Saint-Georges near Paris, and at Clermont-Ferrand and Brive-La-Gaillarde.

Infrastructure renewals are being funded by the government and infrastructure manager SNCF Network, with €2bn to be spent on the Paris - Limoges - Toulouse main line and €1bn on Paris - Clermont-Ferrand.

Separately, the government is providing two-thirds of the €385m being spent to raise line speeds on the Paris - Limoges - Toulouse line. It is also providing two-thirds of the €130m cost of undertaking similar work between Paris and Clermont-Ferrand, with the remainder coming from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.

The election traction power supply between Melun and Moret is being reinforced at a cost of €26m.

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