The contracts, which include options for a four-year extension, have a total value of around €1bn and cover the delivery of up to 750,000 tonnes of rail.

The deal is a boost for Tata's Hayange mill in Lorraine, which has recently been upgraded at a cost of €35m to produce rails in lengths of up to 108m. The opening of the new €12m heat treatment plant at Hayange has allowed Tata to increase its annual output of heat-treated rails from 55,000 tonnes to 125,000 tonnes.

"These contracts provide transparency for our industrial partners," says SNCF Network president Mr Jacques Rapoport. "We intend to develop this type of long-term contract for three reasons: to raise capacity for an unprecedented increase in our workload, which comes from the upgrading of the existing network; to help improve our industrial efficiency; and finally to encourage innovation in procurement."