THE French Ministry of Ecological Transition launched calls for Expressions of Interest in projects concerning “digitalisation and decarbonising of rail transport” on July 29.

This is part of the “Relance France” (Relaunching France) post-Covid-19 investment programme.

The calls are for three main topics: lightweight passenger trains, digitalising the rail network and automating rail freight. Up to €250m in government support is available.

Development of lightweight passenger trains is seen as essential element in the revival of marginal branch lines - helping to reduce costs, increase train frequency, attract more passengers and thus improve the economics of such lines.

Introducing ERTMS Level 3 to improve reliability and boost mainline network capacity is the main element of digitalising the rail network. Introduction of this technology will be accelerated following an initial pilot scheme.

Automating freight trains is seen as an essential part of attaining the French government's goal of doubling rail freight's market share by 2030 - the current share is 9-10%, considerably less than in comparable countries. The project will include increased digitalisation of train and marshalling yard operations, and developing automatic locomotive and wagon couplings.

The calls concern companies of all sizes, individually or in consortia, which are offering innovative solutions. These may be complete systems or subsystems, which can be part of pilot schemes.