\r\nBorne says March will be devoted to considering how to open the rail network to competition, starting with competition on the high-speed network, followed by competition on the conventional network for regional services.\r\nIn mid-March, the government will start to consider how to reorganise French National Railways (SNCF) in order to make it more agile, and to create a situation whereby infrastructure manager SNCF Network can guarantee equitable access to the network for all operators. This in turn will require the government to consider the future of SNCF\u2019s stations and connections division, which is currently part of SNCF Mobility.\r\nAt the beginning of April the government will start to look at the modernisation of the social sector of the railway, such as terms of employment. The government wants to phase out the system which gives railway employees a job for life with a retirement age of 50-55, at least for new employees.\r\nBorne guaranteed that there will be a wide discussion on the proposed reforms. \u201cDuring the next two months we have to talk to representatives of the users, the regions, the best economists, the associations and the unions,\u201d she says.\r\nThe objective is to agree the key principles for railway reform before the summer.\r\nThe prime minister emphasised the urgency of the need for reform in his speech on February 26. \u201cThe status quo in not an option, because the status quo threatens the public service,\u201d Philippe said. \u201cFor too long, we did not dare to reform SNCF. For too long, we resolved to accept the degradation of public service.\u201d\r\nReferring to the Spinetta report, Philippe said: \u201cThe diagnosis is severe, but sadly correct. The situation is alarming, not to mention untenable. The French, whether they take the train or not, are paying more and more each year for a public service which operates less and less well.\u201d\r\nPhilippe echoed one of the Spinetta report\u2019s conclusions that the lion\u2019s share of railway investment has been devoted to building the high-speed network during the last 40 years to the detriment of the conventional network.\r\n\u201cThe situation today is that our network is in an advanced state of decrepitude - our infrastructure is on average twice as old as that in Germany,\u201d Philippe pointed out. \u201cOn 20% of the network the operating speed has been reduced to ensure passenger safety. This is twice what it was 10 years ago.\u201d\r\nReferring to the Paris regional express network (RER) and regional TER services, Philippe said: \u201cAlmost one in six RER trains and one in 10 TER trains arrive late, which is double that of our German and Dutch neighbours.\u201d\r\nPhilippe points out that the railway receives \u20ac14bn of financial support each year which is more than the police and gendarmerie combined receive. He says railway support is now 22% higher than it was 10 years ago and yet the service is deteriorating.\r\n\u201cThe Spinetta report reveals a simple truth: running a train in France costs 30% more than elsewhere,\u201d Philippe said. This is partly due to the ageing infrastructure but also SNCF.\r\nThe prime minister is also concerned about SNCF\u2019s mounting debt which he says \u201cthreatens to engulf the system.\u201d Philippe says the debt has grown from \u20ac20bn to \u20ac50bn in 20 years and now equals the national education budget. \u201cSNCF pays \u20ac1.5bn each year in interest payments,\u201d Philippe said. If nothing is done, the debt will grow to by another \u20ac15bn during the next 10 years.\r\nThe prime minister is proposing a new railway pact between the nation, SNCF and railway employees that will achieve concrete improvements:\u2022 more frequent and punctual trains which offer better service and safety\u2022 a better economic model for SNCF as a public enterprise oriented to the future and able to compete face-to-face\u2022 a clear vision for railway employees, and\u2022 a guarantee that each euro will be spent efficiently.\r\nAs far as reforming SNCF is concerned, Philippe says the existing structure is too rigid and fragmented. \u201cBetween the exploded British model and the continental model of a very integrated group, as exists in Germany, my preference is for the second model,\u201d he revealed.\r\nPhilippe also gave four assurances:\u2022 rail funding will not be cut - indeed it is already planned to increase the amount devoted to renovating the network by 50% over the next 10 years\u2022 Spinetta\u2019s recommendation to close around 9000km of lines has been rejected\u2022 there will be no reform of railway pensions, and\u2022 SNCF will not be privatised.