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SNCF set to lose bid for regional French railway line for first time ever

The French state-funded rail operator SNCF is set to lose a regional rail service for the first time as officials in southeast France vote to award a 10-year contract to a rival operator.

SNCF set to lose bid for regional French railway line for first time ever
Photo by Bertrand Langlois / AFP

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.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about taking the train in France

“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.” 

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TRAVEL NEWS

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

The UK is set to scrap all Covid-19 travel restrictions in what the government described as a "landmark moment".

Travel in Europe: UK to scrap all Covid travel rules

Testing is no longer required for vaccinated travellers, but the UK government has announced that it will scrap all Covid-19 travel rules on Friday, March 18th.

“As one of the first major economies to remove all its remaining Covid-19 travel restrictions, this is a landmark moment for passengers and the travel and aviation sector,” said the Government in a press release. 

From 4am on March 18th:

  • Passengers going to the UK will no longer be required to fill out a Passenger Locator Form before travel;
  • Passengers who are not vaccinated will not be required to take a pre-departure Covid test, or a Day 2 test following arrival. Fully vaccinated travellers are already exempt from having to do this;
  • Hotel quarantine for travellers coming from ‘red list’ countries, of which there are currently none, will also be scrapped by the end of the month. 

“We will continue monitoring and tracking potential new variants, and keep a reserve of measures which can be rapidly deployed if needed to keep us safe,” said UK Health Minister Sajid Javid. 

The UK has lifted all Covid-related rules including mask rules and mandatory self-isolation if you test positive for Covid.

Some European countries still have Covid restrictions in place for unvaccinated people coming from the UK. 

Until March 18th

Until the new rules come into effect, all travellers are required to fill out a passenger locator form. 

Unvaccinated travellers are also required to take pre-departure test and a test on or before Day 2 following their arrival. 

The UK border officers will recognise proof of vaccination provided with an EU Covid Certificate.

For the UK “fully vaccinated” means 14 days after your final dose of a EMA/FDA or Swiss approved vaccine (Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson). 

After a period of confusion, the UK government says that it will accept mixed doses administered in the EU (eg one dose of AstraZeneca and one of Pfizer).

However people who have only had a single dose after previously recovering from Covid – which is standard practice in some European countries – are not accepted as vaccinated by the UK.

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