France is throwing itself into Italian high-speed trains, with the hope of a better and cheaper service

Once upon a time there was a monopoly of the State Railways, then came the competition between Frecciarossa and Italo trains, but by 2026 we will also be able to find Snfc trains on our high-speed lines (Société nationale des chemins de fer français) which will then be the transalpine TGV, just like ours have been active for some time in the connection between Paris and Lyon. In fact, the newspaper Le Monde reports that the plans of the Sncf Voyageurs company would include the conquest of 15% of the Italian market in the next 12-15 years on rapid rail connections along some national routes and that for this a request would have been sent to the railway network Italian.

This will not be a service implemented in a short time, Sncf will begin to operate in Northern Italy on the East-West routes (with four daily trains) and North-South up to Naples with nine trains currently under construction, the Alstom Tgv-M, i.e. the same manufacturer of Italo carriages, which is producing around a hundred examples for Sncf. And with the reopening of the Frejus tunnel, expected at the end of next autumn, the frequency of the service between Paris and Milan via Turin will also increase.

In practice, rail passenger transport is experiencing what happened to civil aviation thirty years ago, an opening of the market which should benefit competition and therefore passengers' pockets. Three years ago, Sncf also began operating in Spain, while on the French network, after the Italian “Arrows”, a private operator is also about to appear, Proxima, an initiative financed by the French fund Antin Infrastructure Partners with one billion euros, money that will be necessary to purchase a dozen Avelia Horizon trains, also from Alstom like the Tgv-M, for the routes affected by the new connections which will be those between the capital and the stations of Bordeaux, Nantes, Angers and Rennes, by the end of 2029 Proxima was launched by former Sncf manager Rachel Picard, who told the newspaper “L'echo Touristique”: “My vision is to offer an alternative, to look for new customers, who still take the car today; the train is the future of all our journeys, from daily ones to go to work to those made at weekends with friends or for holidays with the family (…). This is why I have decided to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure to create a new high-speed rail company that is totally French-owned and which will strengthen the current offering. Social, climate and territorial issues are the basis of our project, we want to help the French to take the train more by offering them an alternative solution.”

Picard therefore expects to be able to offer at least ten million new places by the end of the decade, taking advantage of the law that since 2019 allows the possibility of announcing contracts between the French State and the Regions. The same provision, also written by the EU in Brussels, provides that from December 2020 the high-speed lines will be free to access, except for cases governed by regional contracts and that from December 2023 the French state and regions are required to launch tenders for contract by 2033 as the existing contracts with Sncf Voyageurs expire. Except in the Paris area, where the commuter service Transilien it will be gradually opened to competition until 2039. For his part, Alain Rauscher, CEO of Antin Infrastructure Partnerspointed out that the one underway is the fund's fifth largest investment in the railway world and therefore it is not a bet but rather a well-calculated project which may however see changes necessary to adapt it to the economic-financial situations that could materialize in the near future.

The offers that promise to be competitive on the French market, such as the Bordeaux-Nantes and Bordeaux-Rennes route starting from 60 euros from 2026, however, will hardly be able to be implemented in Italy for various reasons, starting with the cost of electricity, which Beyond the Alps it is produced with the cheapest nuclear power. However, other possibilities are taking shape and spreading, such as those of low-cost but not free night convoys such as the failed attempt to offer practically free travel by exploiting the redeployment of convoys, implemented by Midnight Trains. After all, Rachel Picard is convinced of a phenomenon: “The change in working habits that occurred after the pandemic is fueling the need for high-speed commuter connections and new lifestyles are emerging. You can live in Nantes and work in Paris.” We therefore hope that with greater competition in the future costs will decrease on routes such as Turin-Milan-Verona, or towards Bologna and therefore to the South.