Officials in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur appear set to award the regional rail service between Marseille and Nice to the Transdev transport group for 10 years when the tender goes to its final vote on October 29th.
If the vote goes as planned, it will be the first internal regional rail service in France that will not be operated by SNCF.
“SNCF Voyageurs [which includes TGV, TER, Intercités and Transilien] wishes Transdev every success, in the interest of passengers and the development of rail transport in the region,” SNCF said in a press release, acknowledging the impending loss of the contract.
“This choice marks (…) the concretisation of the opening to competition for which we have been preparing for a long time, where our organising authorities have the freedom to choose other operators than us,” Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs, said in the statement.
Three companies were in the running for the €870 million 10-year deal: SNCF, private French transport group Transdev, and Thello, a subsidiary of the Italian public railway company Trenitalia.
Transdev – which already operates successful bus, coach and rail operations – has promised that regional rail traffic on the Marseille-Nice line will double from seven daily services to 14 by 2025.
While the symbolic loss of its first regional rail service will hurt SNCF, it can console itself with reports that it looks set to retain other lines in the region, including links between Les Arcs-Draguignan and Ventimiglia (Italy), as well as Nice-Tende and Cannes-Grasse. The 10-year deal for those services – for which it was the only bidder – is worth €1.5 billion.
Elected officials in the Grand-Est, Hauts-de-France, Ile-de-France and Pays de la Loire are taking a keen interest in the tender process in PACA, having already announced that they would consider opening up bids for TER services to rival operators.
TER routes are France’s local trains, running slower services to small towns, in contrast to the high-speed TGV network which links up the cities.
“It’s historic in the railway world, it’s the first time that a line of this importance will be granted to another operator than the SNCF,” Alpes-Maritimes senator Philippe Tabarot, and former vice-president in charge of transport in the PACA region, told AFP.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is as excited at the prospect. “We are not surprised, because it shows the willingness of the region to create competition in the most profitable markets,” said Jean-Marie Valencia, head of communications for rail union CGT-Cheminots PACA. “We are concerned, because it will not be without cost to the railway workers.”
Didier Mathis, secretary general of union UNSA-Ferroviaire, added: “We are saddened by this decision, because it will lead to the transfer of 166 agents [from SNCF to Transdev].
“This decision is not at all a surprise, because the Southern Region would have been embarrassed if it had chosen SNCF twice in the two tenders, even though it said it was dissatisfied with SNCF. The region would have lost all credibility.”