Turnover and the TGV

The TGV network put France at the forefront of European intercity rail technology for decades. Early investments, starting in 1981 with high-speed tracks between Paris and Lyon, led to explosive growth in ridership throughout the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s. But since then, usage has stagnated. Domestic ridership in 2009 and 2010 was 100 million; so was domestic ridership in 2016, on a larger network. There was a 10% increase in 2017 when the line to Bordeaux opened, but in 2018 ridership stagnated again. In the late 2000s, there was more ridership on the TGV than on the intercity trains in Germany; now, German intercity trains approach 150 million annual riders, and are not far behind the TGV in passenger-kilometers, Germany running slower trains and thus averaging shorter trips.

I’ve heard a number of different explanations for why TGV ridership has not increased in the last ten years, many of which involve management; I, too, complain about managers who are recruited from the airline industry. But I submit that there’s a deeper, conceptual reason: the TGV is only workable for thick markets, mostly connecting Paris with a major provincial city. Trains run mostly nonstop, and there is no seat turnover. From the 1980s to the late 2000s, ridership rose as more cities were connected to Paris, but then those markets were mostly saturated, and new markets cannot be served adequately.

The TGV hit a wall about ten years ago. This is important, because as the busiest high-speed rail network outside of China and Japan, it has a lot of cachet. Politicians and rail planners propose programs that look much like the TGV network. This is of especial importance in the United Kingdom, which is replicating the TGV’s operating paradigm with the under-construction High-Speed 2 project; in the United States, the geography of the Northeast Corridor has meant that plans look more like the Japanese paradigm, which works better both in general and in the Northeast’s specific context.

Turnover

In Japan, Germany, and the United States (by which I mean the Northeast Corridor), trains stop at many major cities on one route.

The fastest Shinkansen trains between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka have always stopped at Nagoya and Kyoto. Tokyo-Osaka passengers ride end to end, but many riders go between Tokyo or Osaka and Nagoya, so the seat turns over. Some of these trains continue west to Hakata, with such intermediate stops as Okayama and Hiroshima. The upshot is that the trains don’t just connect these cities to Tokyo, but also to one another. The size of Tokyo means there is demand for very high frequency to Shin-Osaka and decent frequency to Hakata; passengers on intermediate city pairs like Nagoya-Okayama or Kyoto-Hiroshima benefit from infrastructure that those city pairs could never justify on their own.

In Germany, intercity trains generally serve more than two major cities too. Like in France and unlike in Japan and the US, some major cities have stub-end stations, most notably Frankfurt; trains do not skip these cities, but rather serve them, reverse direction in about 5 minutes, and continue. Passengers may reserve seats but do not have to do so, so each seat has an electronic display showing for which portion of the trip it is free for the use of any passenger with an unreserved ticket.

France works by a different principle. Paris, Lyon, and Marseille are collinear, but trains do not serve all three cities. Trains from Paris to Lyon do not continue to Marseille; trains from Paris to Marseille rarely stop at the Lyon airport and never stop at Lyon Part-Dieu, which is on a branch from the Paris-Marseille mainline. There are separate trains between Lyon and Marseille, running generally hourly. Hourly frequency is workable on a line that takes about 1:40 end to end, but is not great.

At least Lyon and Marseille are on the same line coming out of Paris. Trains between Lyon and Lille, 3-3.5 hours apart on opposite sides of Paris, have service gaps of 2-2.5 hours most of the day. Lyon-Strasbourg trains on the LGV Rhin-Rhône lose money – the two cities alone do not have the ridership to fill trains, and there are no transfers with other cities nor larger intermediate cities than Mulhouse.

It’s too late for Paris 21

Berlin Hauptbahnhof is a through-station with service to cities all over Germany; every intercity train to Berlin serves Hauptbahnhof, regardless of which direction it comes from. This is common elsewhere in Germany, too. The second most important stub-end station, Stuttgart, is currently being replaced with an underground through-station at great cost, in a controversial project called Stuttgart 21. The most important, Frankfurt, long had plans for a similar through-station dubbed Frankfurt 21, and recently the federal government announced new plans for such a project.

Paris could have built a Paris 21, or Paris Hauptbahnhof, in the 1970s or 80s. When the city designed the RER, it ripped up Les Halles to build the Chatelet-Les Halles transfer point. The station is palatial: 25 meters underground, with 7 tracks and 4 platforms, 2 of which are 17 meters wide. This was so expensive that the Auber-Nation segment of the RER A, consisting of 6 km of tunnel and the Chatelet-Les Halles and Gare de Lyon RER stations, cost in today’s money around $750 million per km, a record that is yet to be surpassed in a non-English-speaking country.

Planning for the TGV only began in earnest in the late 1970s; the RER was constructed in the late 1960s and 70s, Les Halles opening in 1977. Perhaps the initial omission of intercity tracks was understandable. But the RER D opened in the early 1990s, and by then SNCF should have known it would have a national TGV network. It could have at the very least spent some money on having 2 platforms and 4 tracks at Les Halles dedicated to intercity trains, running through from Gare du Nord to Gare de Lyon. But it didn’t, and now there’s so much regional traffic that repurposing any part of Les Halles for intercity trains is impossible. Moreover, given the cost of the station in the 1970s, a future Paris 21 project would be unaffordable.

Transfers

The TGV has to live with infrastructure decisions made 30 years ago. Given this reality, some of the kludges of the system today are understandable. And yet, even in outlying areas, there are no scheduled connections with either other TGVs or regional trains. Paris-Nice TGVs are timed to just miss TERs to Monaco and Ventimiglia. The Mâcon TGV station is located at just the wrong place for a transfer to a future extension of the LGV Rhin-Rhône south to Lyon. Other than Part-Dieu and Lille-Europe, major secondary cities do not have urban stations designed for through-service.

The contrast here is partly with German or Japanese practice: Japan built Shin-Osaka to enable through-service from east to west of Osaka without spending too much money tunneling into city center, and Germany serves Kassel at Wilhelmshöhe instead of at Hauptbahnhof since Hauptbahnhof is a stub-end station.

But the contrast is even more with the practice of smaller European countries. Switzerland and the Netherlands do not have anything as voluminous as Paris-Lyon, so they had to design their intercity rail networks around everywhere-to-everywhere travel from the start. Switzerland, too, had much less growth in the 2010s than in the 2000s, but ridership and p-km both grew, and are continuing to grow. What’s more, Switzerland has not tapped out its strongest markets: Lausanne, Luzern, and Geneva are still poorly integrated into the national timed transfer plan.

Getting it right from the start

France boxed itself into a corner. Its high-speed rail infrastructure is designed to connect provincial cities to Paris but not to one another. In some places, it’s possible to retrofit something more usable with the construction of new transfer points and the planning of better timetables. But elsewhere, as in Paris, it is too hard. This suggests that other countries that look to France as a model learn not only from the success of the TGV but also its more recent failures, and get it right from the start.

Any of the following lessons are useful to Britain and to other countries that are building large high-speed rail networks:

  • Try to limit branching, to make sure city pairs have adequate frequency. This is especially important on shorter city pairs, such as London-Birmingham, planned to take 38 minutes, and Birmingham-Manchester, planned to take 40 minutes. Adding a few minutes to the trip time of through-trains is fine if it makes the difference between hourly and half-hourly frequencies, or even half-hourly and quarter-hourly frequencies.
  • Place stations at good points for transfers to other trains. This includes trains on the same network, for which the best locations are branch points, and legacy trains, for which the best locations are major legacy stations and junctions. For example, the largest cities of the East Midlands – Nottingham, Derby, and Leicester – lie on a Y-shaped system, so it would be valuable to place a hub station at the node of the Y; the currently planned East Midlands Hub is 3.5 km north of the node, not on the leg of any of the three main cities.
  • If there is a major city with service going in multiple directions, make sure it has a single through-station, even if constructing one requires a new tunnel. This is less relevant to Britain, since London is at the south end of the network, but is relevant to Italy, which needs to convert multiple urban terminals into through-stations, and Spain, which is doing so at Madrid and Barcelona already, at a fraction of the cost of Stuttgart 21.
  • At short range, run trains as fast as necessary – that is, spend a lot of resources on getting trip times between major nodes to be just less than an hour, half an hour, or an hour and a half, but don’t worry too much about 55 vs. 40 minutes in most circumstances. This way, passengers can interchange at major nodes in a short time.

For a generation, the TGV was the envy of the rest of Europe. But it tapped out the strong markets that it was designed around, and now SNCF has its work cut out for it adapting to the needs of other city-to-city travel markets. Other big countries had better take heed and do it right from the start to avoid boxing themselves the way France did.

128 comments

  1. stq

    What is wrong with the current system of separate Paris-Lyon, Paris-Marseille, and Lyon-Marseille trains? The frequencies seem to be reasonably high (given that most trips are probably planned days-weeks in advance and very few are “jump onto the next train”), and the stop in Lyon would probably slow down Paris-Marseille trains enough (I’ve seen stopping penalties of 5-10 minutes on HSR) to make it significantly slower than it is right now.

    • Alon Levy

      First of all, the TGVs have slowed by around 10-20 minutes in the last 10-15 years even without extra stops. In the late 2000s, Paris-Marseille trains took 3:03-3:12. Right now they’re 3:07-3:35. I don’t know why, but I imagine it’s extra schedule padding for reliability – and more consistent stopping patterns tend to improve reliability.

      Second, people plan trips long in advance because SNCF forces them to through yield management and mandatory seat reservations. In Japan, with very high frequency on the express trains between Tokyo and Osaka and no yield management, people do sometimes just show up at the station and buy a ticket on the next train.

      And third, hourly frequency isn’t awful on a line that takes 1:32-1:47, but it is still noticeably worse than optimal.

    • Max Wyss

      Actually, the stopping penalty for Lyon Part-Dieu is more in the 20 minutes range (and the airport stop is not really an option because of the extremely overpriced connecting tram (OK, that could be solved)). But the real traffic for Lyon is at Part-Dieu anyway.

    • Nathanael

      “Be on the Way”, as Jarrett Walker always says.

      https://humantransit.org/2009/04/be-on-the-way.html

      France is losing some of the fundamental advantages of train service through poor operational design. Train service benefits from being able to make a lot of stops along the way, very cheaply — a big contrast to airplane service, or even to local bus service (get off the highway, loop through local streets, get back on the highway). But the point-to-point operations designed in France abandon this benefit for no reason whatsoever.

      A good train service is a chain of cities, not a bunch of branches.

      • Eric

        That is good advice for many, but not all, situations. For example, it is disregarded by every “express” subway line.

          • adirondacker12800

            And in places where there is enough demand for more than two tracks.

          • Herbert

            Most cities rather build a new line or have two different systems (U-Bahn & S-Bahn) then quadruple tracking

          • adirondacker12800

            The express tracks in NYC are analogous to the RER or S-Bahn. You get cross platform transfers out it instead of clambering between stations.
            There’s 12 tracks of north-south subway at Times Square. 8 at Union Square and 8 at Herald Square. 10 if you want to count PATH trains too. There are hints that they were provisioning for 8 tracks on Sixth Ave alone if you squint at the proposals for Sixth Ave. from the 1920s. Only 6 were built. The are 6 under Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn, 8 tracks of subway and LIRR a few blocks away from each other on Queens Blvd. and 10 going hither thither and yon at Broadway Junction in Brooklyn. There are places in the world with demand for more than two tracks.

          • Herbert

            Munich has at least one cross platform transfer between U-Bahn and S-Bahn.

            Nuremberg is of course utterly incompetent when it comes to integrating tram subway and S-Bahn…

  2. michaelrjames

    Is this a possible niche for OuiGo, or are you saying the LGVs and stations just don’t allow it?

    Of course Germany has an inbuilt advantage of much less centralisation as France. Lots of big cities everywhere.

    • Alon Levy

      The very concept of OuiGo is a step in the wrong direction.

      And yes, Germany is less centralized than France, but if you read the literature from the 1990s and 2000s, like New Departures by Anthony Perl, this was viewed as a negative.

      • Herbert

        Well, Germans who wish to go from the capital to the main airport or the biggest metropolitan area (Ruhr) fly. In France those are the same place…

      • michaelrjames

        [oops, my earlier reply to Alon got posted elsewhere at bottom]

        My point was not ‘advantage’ or ‘disadvantage’ but why stopping at other cities and thru-running is more likely in Germany simply due to its city size and distribution. Not to mention that it has 30% more people in 30% smaller area (and even that doesn’t capture that it is more linear/narrow than the hexagon).

  3. Matthew Hutton

    If we have any sense there is a major city with service in multiple directions in the UK, it’s Birmingham. From the south Bristol to Birmingham trains could also be high speed as well as London to Birmingham.

    And I wonder if it’d also be worth doing Reading to Birmingham as a high speed route too, perhaps even extending to Gatwick airport, or even Ashford.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, the big takeaway is that HS2 needs to have a through-station in Birmingham. It’ll cost more and slow down trains to points northwest, but it means show-up-and-go frequency between London and Birmingham and simplifies operations in the North.

  4. Max Wyss

    There is non-neglectable regional traffic between Avignon, Aix-en-Provence and Marseille.

    Another issue may be that the Paris to the Southeast line is running at capacity, because of the limitation of the signalling system (they are working on it, but that takes some time…); a small relief would be if they ran the Lyria to Basel (and beyond) via Strasbourg (pretty much the same transit time).

    • Herbert

      Would a train from Paris to Basel via Strasbourg have to pass through the headache that is the German Rhine valley line?

        • Herbert

          Is it less crowded than the line whose temporary shutdown last summer sent ripple effects through half of Europe?

      • Max Wyss

        No, the SNCF line through the Alsace is pretty well equipped (and allows higher speeds than the DB line). Traffic density is relatively low, nevertheless the Région pays for a more or less 30 minute interval service.

  5. Max Wyss

    A fundamental difference between Germany and France is/was that Germany (aka DB) always was thinking in “Lines”, where France (aka SNCF) always was thinking in “Trains”.

    Way before the high speed lines, DB had the TEE/EC/IC network, and they had at the very beginning about 4 lines with 2 hour intervals, and (IIRC) no branching or branch switching (the latter came later with the hourly intervals). OTOH, SNCF always was thinking on an individual train level, with its specific (often kind of optimized) service. This difference of approach still exists.

  6. Lukas

    I have, again, realised how good the planning was in this regard in my City (Cologne) in this regard, because they managed to get Hauptbahnhof right into the historic city centre, though the curve radius for the bridge connection is less than ideal). Even though it lead to the absurdity that the City’s most important train stations are 500m apart from one another….

    I was wondering though how could the US get a HSR network in place without it blowing up like Stuttgart 21 or HS2 or BER, because this being not the US military, Congress would be fast to kill it if it got to expensive, wouldn’t they?
    My idea was to start with expanding rail to the NYC-Chicago corridor first. This would then be built in steps (for example, build Cleveland – Pittsburgh first before committing to the long run to NYC) trying to get the most learning by doing done first. This would be useful becaise shorter stretches of the line could open early and get some testing. The US could especially test integration of local Intercity/Regional rail to the HSR line before commiting to a massive network build without clear concept of how to do things.
    Is this a crazy or unpractical idea? Also, how many smaller cities should such a network serve considering every stop adds valuable time in the competition with airlines. Should the US HSR programme try to emulate the German approach of not every ICE line stops at all ICE stops on the line? This would ofc mean that smaller stations have to be built in such a way as to make passing at speeds of 200 kph + possible and also might ruin schedules. This might be a problem especially on those lines, like Chicago-NYC, where the competition with air travel might still be influenced a lot by which of the 2 is the faster alternative. There is probably enough demand for trains that don’t stop at all in between, to carry business travel traffic who could afford to pay premiums on such a service that would justify the extra infrastructure and possibly higher number of empty seats on that journey, but how much exactly? Would that marlet be worth building for or should all effort be concentrated on getting a normal network right that doesn’t ignore Pittsburgh and Cleveland to save some minutes in the rail vs. air competition.

    • Eric

      I’d prefer to make Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh-NYC (with Detroit, Philadelphia, DC branches) as maglev to get the Chicago-NYC trip down to a more attractive 3 or 4 hours. This would be supplemented by regular HSR from Chicago to surrounding cities, and of course on the Northeast Corridor, etc.

      • Onux

        As I mentioned in the last post, any trans-Appalachian connection to the Midwest should go Pitt-DC. DC is or is about to be larger than Chicago itself, so any connection focusing on getting people from Chicago to somewhere, that doesn’t also try to get them from somewhere to DC, is missing the point. Your plan, with one line to NYC, then branches to Phila & DC, replicates the problem that Alon is critiquing. Instead of the train to Lyon being unable to take you to Marseille, you would have the maglev to DC being unable to take you to Phila. Worse, you lose the opportunity for NY-Phila-DC trips.

        At maglev speed the diversion to DC costs even less time than diverting HSR from Pittsburgh, only 20 min plus dwell time. Plus, if building Maglev, avoiding an extra 125mi of route through the Alleghenies and Appalachians is a huge cost saver. Reaching maglev speeds through the mountains requires an almost continuous tunnel (Chuo Shinkansen will be 80% underground) which is expensive.

        • adirondacker12800

          I want your dealer’s number. He has good stuff.
          Chicago’s MSA was estimated to be 9,498,716 in 2018. Washington D.C. was 6,249,950.

          • Alex B.

            The Chicago CSA is 9,866,910 as of 2018. The DC/Baltimore CSA is 9,778,360 as of 2018.

            Since the 2010 Census, the Chicago CSA has only grown by 0.26%, while the DC/Baltimore CSA has grown by 8.26%.

        • Nathanael

          The Appalachians are a pain to run rail through. Politically, I don’t see a way to get HSR across the Appalachians done until there’s more train service and more demand for train service.

          Right now, the major problem with HSR in the US is political intransigence, and in the crucial Chicago-East Coast corridor, the problem is biggest in Ohio and Indiana (recall that Ohio is denser than France and could easily support a similar train network), which also happen to be flat and good for HSR construction. Only proof of concept will change the minds in Ohio — it’s a great pity the Cleveland-Columbus-Cincy project got cancelled by saboteurs and thugs.

        • Eric

          NYC-Chicago is far enough that you really cannot spare that “20 minutes+dwell time”. And even “20 minutes+dwell time” is inaccurate because it assumes maglev being built to maglev speed along the NE corridor between DC-NYC, which would be completely unaffordable because the route is curvy and built up already. In contrast, a mountain crossing between approximately Pittsburgh and Harrisburg would then let you run a flat rural line (i.e. cheap) east to NYC/Philadelphia and another one south to DC. Not only construction costs would be much lower, but DC and NYC are each so big that a high level of service could be supported between each city and Chicago.

          I also envisioned Detroit as a branch of this system because it would be annoying to get off maglev in Toledo and have to transfer to another train to get to Detroit. However, Cleveland-Cincinnati would be a good traditional HSR route with a Cleveland transfer to the maglev.

    • Herbert

      The Hohenzollern Bridge alone is responsible for like a quarter of all ICE delays in western Germany…

    • Nathanael

      “I was wondering though how could the US get a HSR network in place without it blowing up like Stuttgart 21 or HS2 or BER, because this being not the US military, Congress would be fast to kill it if it got to expensive, wouldn’t they?
      My idea was to start with expanding rail to the NYC-Chicago corridor first. This would then be built in steps ”

      I agree with this principle. My steps are a little different.

      Part One. I’d expand the shorter routes with potential out of the end cities first — this is the Empire Corridor, Pennsylvania Corridor, and Michigan Corridor:
      — (1) exclusive passenger tracks out of Chicago through northern Indiana to Michigan. Benefits Chicago-Michigan service, but is essential for Chicago to NY service. Planned, designed, suspended. (2) Upgraded passenger-exclusive service through Michigan; in progress despite not having done part one.
      — (1) upgraded exclusive passenger route from NY-Albany-Schenectady. In progress. (2) Likewise from Schenectady to Buffalo; suspended, not happening right now.
      — (1) upgraded exclusive passenger route from Philadelphia – Harrisburg; done. (2) Upgraded exclusive passenger route from Harrisburg – Pittsburgh. Long talked about.

      Electrify everything, of course.

      These are all routes where the legacy route is going to have to be taken within most of the cities, and we might as well get that tricky right-of-way stuff in the cities dealt with first; the current system of freight ownership is just never going to deal with the problem. These are also routes where it’s possible to get increased frequency, and so ridership and proof of ridership, quickly.

      Part Two. More Through Trains Daily. Run more than one train per day from New York to Chicago, building whatever minimal passenger bypasses are needed to make them run on time and buying whatever track is needed to make them run on time. This is the *proof of market*. Nobody’s ever built an HSR line between cities which didn’t have several-per-day passenger train service, and the reason is political: you can’t get the support for building the line unless you have a bunch of people who are used to the train habit.

      Part Three. Actually build the HSR line through Ohio and Indiana (the cheap, flat part). This isn’t going to be possible until enough people in the on-line cities have the train-riding habit, which is the reason for part two. If they don’t have the train-riding habit, then even if they support the idea, in their ignorance they’ll fall for stupidities like maglev, monorails, hydrogen trains, and Hyperloop.

      Even in California, every city to be served by California HSR has Amtrak service. Taiwan’s HSR went between cities on an existing passenger rail route. Politically, I see no way to get HSR on a route without first getting substantial conventional passenger rail; it just doesn’t seem possible to get the votes.

      • red dog

        How has the upgraded service on the Philly/Harrisburg route worked, passenger increase in any sizable numbers? Can that be used as a test case in terms of all the factors of legacy lines/branch lines such as costs and usage?
        Your thinking re Ohio makes sense on a map but I doubt that it would work in reality. Lets suppose there was HSR between Columbus and Indy, a very workable distance of around 200 miles. (I suggest those two cities as State capitals and where HSR if successful, could be extended) And the service could include some other cities in route. If the stations were all downtown I believe that the big issue would be getting passengers to and from the stations. The mid east is extremely auto based and has bought into the american template of the power of the car centered suburbs. So unless the stations were stuck in the middle of huge parking lots, which no city wants in their core, taking a transit bus even just on one leg of a trip could account for 50% of the travel time, which seems like a big penalty to overcome. “A station stuck in the middle of a huge parking lots” sound like anything we already have, maybe something in the suburbs and near major highways, something called an airport. HSR might and should provide great speeds station to station, but the total trip time, door to door, is the bottom line. HSR out in areas where you correctly say the cost to build might make sense, is only part of the travel equation.

  7. michaelrjames

    It may well be a negative, but it is more likely to lead to a service with multiple stops than otherwise. Also supports thru-running stations. Stuttgart is just one medium city in a linear mega-region.
    By comparison Paris is the undeniable centre of France and, with the exception of Lyon, all its principle provincial cities are at or close to the periphery. I wonder if that tunnel linking Gare de Nord to (Austerlitz or Montparnasse or Lyon?) would really be all that utile. Most people have Paris as their destination and even if not, as a waypoint onto somewhere else. And for others there is the Interconnexion-Est (wasn’t there supposed to be a Interconnexion-Ouest at La Defense?) Seems to me the different strategies evolved naturally from the existing distribution of cities. Except for Berlin, most of Germany can be served by one north-south line, not totally dissimilar to the NEC.

    • Alon Levy

      Is it really a fact that most people have Paris as their destination in France? Ile-de-France is 20% of national population; ignoring locality of travel, we should expect 1/3 of interregional travel to involve Ile-de-France, and taking locality into account we should expect this proportion to fall because of shorter-distance city pairs like Marseille-Lyon, Marseille-Toulouse, Toulouse-Bordeaux, Rennes-Nantes, and Marseille-Nice.

      And the north-south HSR line that West Germany actually built misses the entire Rhine-Ruhr region as well as Frankfurt. Is Germany really more linear than France, which could have built a Lille-Paris-Lyon-Marseille trunk line?

      • michaelrjames

        That’s not what I said, or what I meant. If you had that north-south tunnel under Paris, how many would use it and how many would not stop in Paris to do something, rather than just pass thru? The kind of people who want to travel like that tend to just fly.
        I don’t know how many trains there are but there already is the bypass LGV (isn’t this a “Lille-Paris-Lyon-Marseille trunk line”? remember the da Vinci Eurostar that made the longest highspeed train journey ever at that time, London to Cannes) which can save people coming from the north (including London) hours by avoiding Paris, but I’d bet it isn’t used nearly as much as those who arrive at Gare du Nord, spend some time in Paris and then take a TGV from Montparnasse or Lyon. It’s a very different situation to the German one with big city after big city for the entire length of the country, Hamburg to Munich. (the answer to your question re linear is: yes, and they should have built it as TransRapid Maglev …).

        And the north-south HSR line that West Germany actually built misses the entire Rhine-Ruhr region as well as Frankfurt.

        That seems like an error (or a money saving thing?). Other than missing so many Germans, it is also where many other Europeans are joining the German rails …

        • Alon Levy

          Yes, there is a bypass, but this means that a train on this supposed trunk can’t serve more than 2 out of the 4 main cities on it.

          And the Hanover-Würzburg line is indeed an error. Nothing about saving money, though – it has 120 km of tunnel because of freight-friendly superelevation.

          • Herbert

            The Hanover Würzburg line was in part built to relieve a line that was precariously close to the inner German border and handling far more traffic than it had been designed for (from the days of Prussia, East-West connections were given priority, the need of north-south connections created by the divided country overwhelmed the infrastructure for decades). Basically all German NBS were about adding capacity first, increasing speed second. VDE8 is the only exception I can think of and even there they added hypothetical freight trains in the planning phase to get a better result in their standardized cost benefit analysis

          • Onux

            Wasn’t the Hannover-Wurzberg line planned when Germany was divided, preventing the logical Hannover-Erfurt-Nuremberg-Munich route? If so, given the geopolitics at the time the route isn’t exactly an error.

          • Herbert

            It was built and planned during a time of German division. It opened very shortly after reunification. That said, even in divided Germany it’s a bit odd at first glance to skip Frankfurt and the Ruhr area as well as Stuttgart…

            Interestingly enough, Berlin U-Bahn plans while blatantly written to ignore the S-Bahn in the west were always written as if reunification was just around the corner… U55 goes back to a pretty old plan to extend U5 (which was all east Berlin during partition) from Alexanderplatz to Tegel airport – despite there being other lines that are physically closer to TXL…

  8. Eric

    Re “Paris21”: why is it necessary for a through-line to stop at Les Halles? Just run it straight from Gare du Nord to Gare du Lyon with a stop at each. You still get transfers to every RER line except C, and the stops at GDN and GDL should be much easier to construct.

    • Alon Levy

      I suppose France could do like JR Central with Shinagawa and build the new Paris Central underneath Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est, with tunnels south to Lyon and Montparnasse… it would jive with En Marche’s urban renewal plans for Gare du Nord (read: there are more black and Arab people loitering at Gare du Nord than the French elite feels comfortable with).

      • michaelrjames

        Hey, the solution is obvious. They should build that GdN to Chatelet tunnel duplication to separate RER-D from -B, and voila they could use it for both TGV (Eurostar, Thalys) and RER-D, thru to Gare de Lyon.

        Talking of elites, did you read what Ai Wei Wei said about Berliners? A bit wild. He’s moved to Cambridge, mostly to give his kids a top (elite school) education …

        • Eric

          In that case, how would you do TGV boarding? Would you just let any RER passenger walk onto the TGV? Or would you build separate platforms, and if so how and where?

          • michaelrjames

            The TGV would pass thru Chatelet but it wouldn’t stop; probably need platform doors (which it is bound to get anyway). But you’re correct in that Gare du Nord (or Lille) is going to be the only place to pass thru Immigration for Eurostar. And like I said earlier, I’m unconvinced this tunnel thru-route really helps anyone much. If you’re heading straight to the south you can use trains that go via Interconnexion-Est (CDG) like the summer trains London-Avignon (is there British immigration control in Avignon? on the return journey do they have to disembark and do the whole theatre in Lille?). Let’s forget the post-Brexit Brits and realise this would work ok for Thalys …

            But my suggestion was provoked by Alon’s long wish to build that tunnel and with only RER-D using it, there would be capacity for the occasional Eurostar:-)

    • Alon Levy

      No, there’s already a TGV semicircle, called the LGV Interconnexion Est. It connects Lille, Lyon, and Marseille with Eurodisney and CDG, but the only transfers to Paris are to RER trains.

  9. Benjamin Turon

    When you look at the United States and Canada I think that most potential high speed rail corridors are more akin to the Shinkansen/NEC model as opposed to the TGV — basically strings of beads strung along a single trunk line — with some limited branching, for example NEC service to Hartford and Harrisburg or JR East’s Shinkansen/Mini-Shinkansen lines.

    This is true for the Northeast Corridor, Empire Corridor, Keystone Corridor, Southeast Corridor, Virgin Brightline Florida, Front Range, California, Cascadia, Calgary-Edmonton, and VIA’s Ontario-Quebec Corridor. Where you could see a TGV system being planned out is in the Midwest, with Chicago as the hub of a spoke system. Atlanta has a hub is also conceivable. Thus, there might be no one-seat direct service from let’s say Cincinnati to St Louis, all trips would go through Chicago, with a likely change of trains.

    However unlike the TGV I think that a Midwest or Atlanta Hub-and-Spoke HSR network would have many intermediate stations with many trains stopping. This would be in part political — to avoid making large parts of states “zoom-past” country, akin to “fly-over country”. Thus a two or three-tiered services would emerge, like the Shinkansen and Amtrak’s NEC. Virgin Brightline has been adding stations; I’m curious if Texas Central will do the same beyond “nearby” College Station station. I could see additional park-n’-ride stations on the outskirts of Houston (Sam Houston Tollway) and Dallas (I-20).

    The British Intercity system is similar to the TGV with its branching of intercity services out from London, however unlike the TGV there are many intermediate station stops, including both small cities and suburban park-n’-ride stations. There also is the Cross-Country intercity service. I believe from what I have read that there has been complaints in France of under-investment in inter-region services in favor of TGV lines to Paris. In the UK the Northern Powerhouse Rail (HS3) seems being pushed by similar concerns of a London centered system.

    Often critics (usually uniformed media types) attack the California HSR project for not being “true high speed rail” because of its intermediate stations. Clearly these people are envisioning a airline-style, more TGV like system as opposed to the Shinkansen or Amtrak’s NEC — with their multiple and fairly closely spaced intermediate stations and tiered service of limited-stop express and multiple-stop express services.

    • Benjamin Turon

      When you link of it — many in the US seem think High Speed Rail is all new track like the Shinkansen (ignoring Mini-Shinkansen) with few or no intermediate stops, like the TGV. I have had to numerous times point out that the TGV, like most HSR systems use existing track and stations — including to a fellow from the Wall Street Journal who had ridden the Eurostar, Waterloo to Gare de Nord.

      • yuuka

        The entire reason why things are that way in Japan (and Taiwan) is because you can’t get any meaningful speed out of the narrow gauge network.

        But either way, full separation does have its advantages in terms of safety and punctuality (no pesky mixed traffic to worry about), so I guess making it a kind of Holy Grail for HSR systems makes sense to me.

    • michaelrjames

      Actually the Paris to Lyon (#2 city) and to Marseilles (#3 city and biggest port) LGV is more or less equivalent (except shorter) to London to Birmingham (#2 city in UK) to Manchester/Liverpool (#3 city & biggest port-city as was).
      The main lesson to be learnt from the Brits is to build these things earlier rather than later. The French planned theirs in the mid-70s and opened the Lyon line in 1981, almost 40 years ago!

    • Herbert

      As virgin Brightline stayed out as a combination of real estate and transportation business with both enhancing one another, I see park& ride as unlikely. For the very single reason that you get both better ridership and better real estate value if you build anything but a parking lot next to your stations…

      As for Atlanta as a hub, yeah I agree. It just so happens that Orlando-Atlanta is once of the busiest routes out of Atlanta and I think virgin would be dumb not to tackle that at some point. And once you’ve got a link to Atlanta, many other connections open up…

  10. Marco Chitti

    Very interesting post, Alon. It makes the right point that it is not just a metter to build HSL, but to get it right from the beginning thinking on terms of a network serving as much O/D pairs as viable/possible, otherwise you are unable to squeeze further growth.
    I think there is also a geography (and a mentality) problem: France, and England, that is going in the direction of France, have both geographically excentreted capitals taking up to 1/5 of the entire nation population and somehow very centralised governement (and elites…). Germany, Italy or Switzerland have a more balanced distribution of population for historical reasons (late unification, regional city-states and early urbanisation in the middle-age/renaissance). Spain is in between.
    The “chance” of Italy is to have six out of seven of it’s major cities in a line. With only 900 km of HSL you get from Naples to Turin, with Rome, Florence, Bologna and Milan in between, all spaced between 90 and 200 km. That alows to fill trains better with any kind of O/D combinations and that’s why italian AV have high loading factors (italo claims a 78% while there are no public data for FS), and a high (and incresing) productivity in terms of milionpass/km network. The main north south spine now carry more than 150 trains/day and it’s already close to saturation.
    That’s why there are only a few direct trains from Milan to Rome skipping intermidiate cities while most stops everywhere, even if it means loosing 20 mins or so compared to direct trains (i.e. due to reverse at Florence). There are strong Milan-Bologna or Florence-Rome, or Naples-Florence markets, both for business, leisure and of course tourism. The problem of through stations does exist, but I’m not sure passing-through stations are needed everywhere. The original network was planned in the 80s with passing stations on peripherical positions to avoid city center tunnelling. This idea was mostly drop later in favour of keeping the trains in the existing terminals or in new terminals close to the existing stations. In Bologna they built an urderground station and a by-pass right under the existing central station. In Florence the works started years ago for an underground bypass, but they are building the new u/g station in an odd position, some 1 km from the existing S.M. Novella and, worst of all, with no direct connection to regional trains (even if an airport style people mover has been proposed to link the two stations…). One is supposed to take a three stop tram ride to go from the HS to the main station. That’s major flaw in the project, while the bypass will save no more then 5 mins for a few non-stop trains.
    In Milan, trains continuing to Turin used to stop in Porta Garibaldi, that is a through station, instead of Centrale. They then moved all the trains back to Centrale because Porta Garibaldi was considered too peripheric (!), even if it’s served by 2 metro lines and the “passante” with regional lines and it’s right near the new CBD area. I think people just preferred arriving in the tremendously pompous gargantuesque architecture of Milan central station…
    In Rome, some trains used to stop at Tiburtina, avoiding the overcrowded throat to Termini. But most, even those continuing south to Naples, go to Termini, that is more central and better connected. In Naples they built Afragola, a new station for passing-through trains continuing to the south (very few for the moment) in the middle of nowhere. The higher speed line u/c to Bari branch out near the new station, but trains from Rome will have to go to the stub-end Napoli Centrale and then reverse to go to Bari.
    So, through stations maybe needed in some cases (and some have proposed a new undergroung AV station in Milan, but not in Rome), as they will speed some trains (and free space for regional ones), but I think they are not the priority, especially because they are costly (the Bologna by-pass, 10 Km of tunnel and a 4 track, 25 m deep, 500m long station costed around 1 bn€).

  11. Car(e)-Free LA

    It might not be as hard as you think to create a through-running HSR station in Paris if you’re willing to build the station in an entirely new location. As it happens, the west side of the Peripherique forms a prefect HSR corridor through Paris. However, the roadway would have to be ripped out from Clichy (where it would dump onto Boulevard des Marechaux) through the Bois du Bologne (where it would need to dump onto Avenue Foch or Avenue Henri Martin.) I suppose the Peripherique could get a new bored tunnel through the area but that’s besides the point.

    Anyway, once the corridor is clear, it’s easy to build a new 12-track run-through station at Porte Maillot–conveniently located at the transfer point of RER A, RER C, Metro line 1, and with a little work, metro line 2. Even better, it’s located close to La Defense and is closer to most of the Paris CBD than existing TGV stations. Tunneling is required through the suburbs at each end, but not through the city at all. Necessary new links would include a 7 km tunnel from Saint Denis to Clichy, linking in the LGV Nord and LGV Est via CDG Airport; an 11 km tunnel from Boulogne Billancourt to Antony (linking into the LGV Atlantique at Massy TGV); and finally, a 9 km tunnel and 34 km of above-ground track linking the LGV Sud Est into the rest of the system at Massy. From Massy to the wye at CDG Airport, the HSR line would be quad-tracked, adding significant capacity and allow trains to get from Massy to CDG in 25 minutes including stops. With a little work, intercity service into Gare St. Lazare could be routed into the new station as well. Some new travel times allowed by this project (existing travel times) are shown below:

    Bordeaux-Brussels: 3 hours (4.5 hours)
    Bordeaux-Strasbourg: 4 hours (5 hours)
    Bordeaux-Lyon: 3.5 hours (5 hours)
    Le Havre-Lyon: 4 hours (5 hours)

    The system would look like this: https://postimg.cc/xXNg9ZGC

    The station at Porte Maillot would look like this: https://postimg.cc/cKbn61sG

    I estimate the whole thing could be done for about 4.5 billion euros, including tunnels, new tracks, and a flashy new station. I think this price-tag is acceptable, given it links the entirety of the TGV together, creates a better-located Paris station, adds capacity, and cuts travel times significantly. It certainly would cost less than a new station at Les Halles, and unlike other proposals, would link the LGV Atlantique–which benefits more than any other line from a new connection through Paris–into the rest of the system.

    • michaelrjames

      Yeah, except for those million vehicles a day using the Peripherique! Even more relevant as inner-Paris gets more restricted car access.
      But anyway, isn’t there a plan for making an Interconnexion-Ouest with a station at La Defense (or next to it) that would serve that purpose? There’s already the rail ROW and this makes more sense than closer in, Porte Maillot (though if it involved demolishing the Palais des Congres, I say go for it! Probably already ROW to the Gare de Massy TGV station? (Which is part of grand urbanist plans encompassing the creation of Université Paris-Saclay, a technopole and GPX etc.) I don’t think it was mentioned in the latest (2018) near-term plan but that doesn’t mean it’s dead, just sleeping. More likely to get done, repurposing existing rail ROW than any expensive tunnel thru central Paris.

      • michaelrjames

        OK finally got my lazy fingers asearching: this was apparently abandoned in 2009 (but like I say … maybe just sleeping); note that there is even a suggestion in here of using the RER-A line for sharing with the TGV.

        https://routes.fandom.com/wiki/LGV_Interconnexion_Ouest
        [extract]
        • The project was presented in three sections:
        Section Saint-Denis – La Défense
        • The new line would start with two connections to Saint-Denis, one on the Paris – Creil line (RER D), another on the Paris – Crépy-en-Valois line (RER B), and would go south- Where is. The line would serve the Grésillons (RER C) and Gabriel Péri-Asnières-Gennevilliers stations, before connecting to the classic Gare Saint-Lazare – La Défense line near Bécon-les-Bruyères station.
        • This line would have improved TGV relations between Normandy and Île-de-France, with connections to La Défense and direct access to Charles de Gaulle Airport, thereby helping to streamline traffic for local connections in the north of Paris.
        La Défense – Nanterre section
        • This is to allow direct access from Normandy to La Défense and therefore to the LGV. Three options were studied:
        • either reopen the connection called “La Folie” by adapting it to TGV,
        • either open a new line,
        • either pass the TGV by the underground of the RER A (but this one is saturated).
        La Défense – Massy section
        • It is rather the blur on this side. We can only envisage a partial reuse of the Rivieira lines between La Défense and Saint-Cloud and then an LGV to Massy where the LGV would connect to the Atlantic LGV and the LG Interconnection South.

      • Alon Levy

        Yeah, except for those million vehicles a day polluting the air! Even more relevant to remove them as inner-Paris gets more restricted car access.

        Corrected.

          • michaelrjames

            Ha, yeah, the road everyone loves to hate*. A nice thought but not feasible, especially with 2.3m residents (and maybe an extra million of workers and visitors each day) inside the Peripherique. Without that ring road, and it being at a near perfect position (approx. radius 5km) you’d have to have a lot more traffic inside and bigger roads. Probably wouldn’t have got T3 built on Boulevards des Marechaux. I reckon the only reason the riverside expressway could be closed is because the Peripherique is just a few km eastwards.
            Not to mention that it is the centre of almost every autoroute in the biggest country in the EU. This, even with the super-Peripherique and the Francilienne. Well, there are plans to force trucks to use these alternatives if they don’t have to use the Peripherique. Of course the most effective mechanism would be to impose a toll, which is a lot easier than back when it was built; almost all the autoroute that connect are tolled but not until you get well out of Paris.

            *My first year in Paris was spent on an upper floor on Fondation Avicenne (the Iranian House) in Cité Universtaire, directly next to, and overlooking, the Peripherique–one of the widest sections of it, and where begins the A6 (becomes the Autoroute du Soleil to the south of France). It is a notable modernist building (by Claude Parent) so was well insulated from any noise but I admit thinking about the pollution. Still, one could get slightly mesmerized by looking down on the traffic at nighttime. For decades you could see its rooftop Mercedes trident sign (neon, rotating) from the Peripherique. IIRC it’s in the closing scene of Polanski’s Frantic as Harrison Ford leaves Paris at night in a taxi on the Periph; at some point it was replaced with a Samsung sign, here:
            https://www.flickriver.com/photos/ruamps/5467279989/
            https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=https%3A%2F%2F66.media.tumblr.com%2Fa58f979ed05e9fb8a663159debfab25d%2Ftumblr_n83vwxzRp01swrh7mo1_1280.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Facidadebranca.tumblr.com%2Fpage%2F353&docid=7XgSSEuf8kpH5M&tbnid=L2b15QY6ngZDvM%3A&vet=10ahUKEwi91bWTk7DnAhUO6nMBHa3hAYwQMwi-ASg_MD8..i&w=800&h=370&bih=697&biw=1121&q=pictures%20cite%C2%B4universitaire%20paris&ved=0ahUKEwi91bWTk7DnAhUO6nMBHa3hAYwQMwi-ASg_MD8&iact=mrc&uact=8

          • michaelrjames

            Herbert, 2020/02/02 – 04:44
            Ever heard of “disappearing traffic”?

            They’ll probably achieve something by the truck diversion idea. And GPX.
            Then the biggest effect on pollution reduction will be EV.
            But I think the Periph is going to be a busy road for a long time yet. It’s a city of 12 million and the inner ring road is in fact a very efficient route for a lot of people. Just be comforted by the fact that, due to greater Paris’ density, it must have lower VMT compared to any equivalent city/region.

            But hey, maybe you and Vassilis can write to Macron and advise him to close the Periph so as to improve the economy?

          • Vassilis Tzaferis

            The Périphérique cannot be closed as there is no viable alternative to it. Both the A86 and Francilienne share part of their trunk with other highways and thus do not constitute true ring roads that could replace the Périph. Moreover, one part of the A86, “Duplex”, is an extremely expensive tolled tunnel which cannot be used by trucks, which happen to be the number one problem cause of congestion on the périph. Regarding LGV interconnections ouest, it will never be built as its way too expensive. There’s also lots of doubts about whether or not LGV interconnections sud will ever be built despite it being urgently needed: today TGVs going to Massy have to use tracks shared with freight trains going to Rungis and the RER C. I would be in favor of closing the Périph only if a true new ring road gets built close to Paris to replace it and the A86. The Francilienne also must be urgently upgraded to cope with increased traffic. Otherwise closing it would be a catastrophe not only for car commuters but the country as a whole.

          • michaelrjames

            Otherwise closing it (Peripherique) would be a catastrophe not only for car commuters but the country as a whole.

            Yep, what I said. And while A86 (“super-Periherique”) may not be a complete option for all trucks, the rest still serves a lot of greater Paris and would lead to considerable relief of the Peripherique congestion. If a trial period showed this then they might even get funding to upgrade it though really the era of building big new roads is pretty much over.

            As to Interconnexion-Ouest, I agree that it is not at all likely in the near future. However if it ever happens it will be with a station at La Defense-Nanterre-LaFolie, where it will have convenient Paris connections via RER-A and RER-E and M1 (and T2). This remains a development zone, and with Brexit and the political desire to compete with London & Frankfurt, direct HSR connections to northern Europe appeals (to those with the power to do something about it). Porte-Maillot is ancient history and will never be used, as obvious with RER-A not stopping there; ok they are building a station for RER-E extension. (Only if this ginormous ’50s eyesore is subject to total knockdown and rebuild. It is a big site but I doubt it.) Most of the long-term strategic planning has been how to decongest inner-Paris and these fantasies (of a giant new HSR station in central Paris) are totally contrary to that. In fact that is the driving reason for GPX and for HSR, Interconnexion-Est/Marne-la-Vallé, Massy, Gare Pleyel-St-Denis. La Defense fits into this (and without looking at maps I recall plenty of rail ROW to connect across to St-Denis?).
            I remain to be convinced such a central HSR hub would serve much real purpose, while creating yet more congestion of people coming into Paris just to go straight out again?

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            To be fair, the A86 could serve as an effective beltway for Paris, and it fits comfortably inside the ring roads of Washington and Atlanta, while only ever getting half as far from the city center as London’s M25. If it were widened from six to ten lanes and trucks could use it, shutting down the peripherique and every other highway inside the A86 loop really wouldn’t be unrealistic. That debate aside, it looks like constructing a station at Porte Maillot–which I still think is the best geographically realistic place in the city–would be possible even without closing the peripherique–it would just require knocking down about 6 more buildings.

            Regarding LGV interconnections around Paris, their entire premise is fundamentally flawed. By sending through trains around Paris without stopping, they lose out on the bulk of their riders. If this happens, only a small handful of TGVs can be supported that don’t stop at a Paris terminus. Therefore, the extremely infrequent non-Parisian trains suppress ridership on these city-pairs, causing a negative cycle. This is why it is so important for every single TGV to pass through a single Paris station, so as to benefit from hub effects. Therefore, if you run a TGV every 15 minutes from, for example, Bordeaux to Lille, even if 70% of the traffic gets off at Paris, you open up easy connections to every single city in France, essentially giving people from Bordeaux access to Strasbourg, Nantes, Lyon, Dijon, and so on every 15 minutes with basically no travel time penalty. If 10% of every TGV from Bordeaux to Lille via Paris transfers to a Nantes to Strasbourg TGV in Paris, you fill the equivalent of 8 TGVs per day from Bordeaux to Strasbourg. Good luck doing getting that many passengers if you only have direct service on the route every 3 hours or so.

            Furthermore, building dedicated HSR track through the Paris region will add capacity and speed up trains significantly, and allow trips like Paris-Bordeaux to be done in 1:55 or so, opening up the opportunity for SNCF to implement a takt system. It’s worth it to build a single central Parisian station fed by all four LGV mainlines–Atlantique, Sud-Est, Nord, and Est–and, coupled with a few key LGV projects–PACA, Rhin-Rhone, Bordeaux-Toulouse-Beziers, and Bordeaux-San Sebastian–allow for every single major French city to be within five hours of every single other major French city with multiple departures per hour. This still doesn’t fix the issue with many TGVs running from their terminus around major cities nonstop, but if SNCF wants to make the investment, it can route the LGV Sud-Est through Lyon Part-Dieu, forcing all trains to stop, and doing the same with the LGV Atlantique through Tours. As long as the LGV extensions to Nice and Toulouse connect in at the main stations in Marseille and Bordeaux, respectively, then the whole system is basically good enough. If everything I’ve suggested is done, this allows for a small handful of simple TGV lines to run extremely frequently along these routes:

            TGV 1. Calais/Brussels-Lille-Paris-Massy-Lyon-Chambery & Turin/Avignon, Marseille & Nice/ Montpelier & Perpignan (supplemented with services to the South-East looping through Marne la Vallee and CDG Airport)
            TGV 2. Rennes/Nantes-Le Havre-Massy-Paris-CDG Airport-Marne la Vallee-Dijon-Basel-Zurich
            TGV 3. San Sebastian&Bayonne/Toulouse-Bordeaux-Tours-Massy-Paris-CDG Airport-Lorraine-Saarbrucken & Frankfurt/Strasbourg & Stuttgart
            TGV 4. San Sebastian & Bayonne/Bordeaux-Toulouse-Montpelier-Avignon-Marseille-Nice
            TGV 5. Marseille-Avignon-Lyon-Basel-Stuttgart/Frankfurt

          • Alon Levy

            I know TGV Lyria uses Gare de Lyon for everything, but it’s better to connect Basel and Zurich to what you call TGV 3. The Strasbourg-Basel line is fast, allowing 200 km/h, and trains could connect the two cities in 45 minutes with stop at Colmar and Mulhouse. It’s almost as fast as if there were an LGV from the LGV Sud-Est via Dijon to Mulhouse, probably about as fast as if such an LGV existed and had stops at Dijon and Besançon.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            I don’t buy it. Paris-Strasbourg alone takes 1:45 via LGV Est. With a full build LGV Rhin-Rhone, Paris-Basel in 1:45 is easily doable–1:30 if the Sud-Est mainline can get back to 2000’s speeds. Rhin-Rhone should be the fastest route to all of non-French speaking Switzerland. Of course, LGV Sud-Est has capacity issues, but that should be fixable with signaling, simplified service patterns, and eventually quad-tracking from Paris to the wye towards Dijon. Regardless, it doesn’t seem wise to force traffic circuitously through Strasbourg instead.

          • Alon Levy

            With a full-build LGV Rhin-Rhône, Paris-Mulhouse is around 480 rail km, so it’s around 2:00-2:15, depending on stops (a stop at Dijon is practically forced). Add 15 minutes to get to Basel. Paris-Strasbourg is 1:45 as you say, and Strasbourg-Basel in 0:45 is perfectly doable.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            You’re right if the LGV does end in Central Mulhouse, but if instead the line bends ESE from Belfort-Montbeliard to Basel, forcing a transfer to Mulhouse (not in France’s interest, but in the interest of creating a Lyon-Basel-Zurich-Munich HSR Axis), then the route should be able to be done in 1:45 with a stop in Dijon. Rhin-Rhone is pretty fast, so Dijon-Basel should be able to be done in 0:40 at about 305 km/h. If Paris-Dijon can be done nonstop in 1:05 at 270 km/h, then it should work out. Even if the route does go through Mulhouse with a stop, then it should still just be 2:00 from Paris to Basel.

          • Alon Levy

            Okay, first of all, bending from Belfort to Basel still means around 500 km from Paris to Basel. This does not take 1:45. At Paris-Bordeaux speeds it’s 1:55, and Paris-Lyon is slower because of some legacy curves and a slower city approach; 2:10 is about the best you can do if you bypass Dijon and repeat every mistake SNCF has made in its network design, i.e. go 20 minutes faster to Basel but screw up service to important intermediate cities. Remember, Lyon-Strasbourg TGVs lose money, because the line is built without good service to intermediate points, and neither Lyon nor Strasbourg is big enough to carry a nonstop line by itself the way Paris is.

            And second of all, Basel-Zurich-Munich HSR axis? What? There is zero reason to build HSR on any of this. The main east-west axis goes through Stuttgart, because Paris-Strasbourg preexists, Strasbourg-Stuttgart can partly use existing HSR shared with Mannheim-Stuttgart, and Stuttgart-Ulm is under construction. Switzerland has absolutely no need for an HSR system that ill fits its clockface system.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            Okay, you’re right about the times, but still Rhin-Rhone at 2:20 with a stop in Dijon beats routing via LGV Est. Besides, the legacy curves and city approach on LGV Sud-Est probably should be fixed anyway, which could easily cut 10 minutes off travel times.

            Regarding Basel-Zurich-Munich HSR, it ought to exist not to improve transit links within Switzerland (although a shorter Basel-Zurich trip is a nice bonus), but rather because of its importance connecting Switzerland, Germany, France, and Italy. Europe’s high-speed transit needs are not conveniently confined inside national borders. Essentially, this region’s HSR links can be built out in two ways. The first would bend the LGV Rhin-Rhone up the German Rhine Valley high speed line to Karlsruhe, and build HSR lines from Stuttgart directly to Munich and Zurich. The second would build a east-west corridor from Basel to Zurich to Memmingen hooking into the Mannheim-Stuttgart-Munich high speed line, but not construct a Stuttgart-Zurich line. This essentially is a choice between a Mannheim-Memmingen-Basel triangle or a T-shaped alignment with a hub at Stuttgart and a closely parallel high speed line up the Rhine Valley. In either case, high speed trans-Alpine services are needed, either through the Gotthard or Brenner base tunnels. I find the Gotthard alignment more compelling since it provides faster service to Italy from essentially everywhere relevant in Germany and Switzerland except Munich and Berlin, especially to the most important destination: Milan.

            A HSR map with the Basel-Zurich-Munich alignment would look something like this: https://i.postimg.cc/bJr0Mk0Y/Euro-HSR-Map.png

            A HSR map with the Stuttgart-Zurich high speed alignment would look something like this: https://i.postimg.cc/Rq5cNYkq/Euro-HSR-Other-Map.png

            Within this network, there are seven major nodes which must be considered:
            Munich (and by extension, all flows eastward)
            Frankfurt (and by extension, all flows towards the Rhine-Ruhr and Benelux)
            Milan (and by extension, all flows south into Italy)
            Paris (and by extension, all flows into Western France and the UK)
            Lyon (and by extension, all flows into Southern France)
            Zurich
            Stuttgart

            In the first map (second map), the rail distances are as follows. (This includes only the city pairs which differ based on the map.
            Munich-Frankfurt: 400km (385km)–0:05 longer
            Munich-Milan: 490km (625km)
            Munich-Lyon: 700km (790km)
            Munich-Zurich: 285km (385km)
            Munich-Stuttgart: 215km (200km)
            Frankfurt-Milan: 660km (620km)
            Frankfurt-Zurich: 400km (360km)
            Milan-Stuttgart: 515km (435km)
            Paris-Zurich: 575km (745km)
            Zurich-Stuttgart: 320km (190km)

            So what does this mean?
            Building the Basel-Zurich-Munich line cuts Paris-Zurich & Munich-Milan trips by an hour and Munich-Zurich & Munich-Lyon trips by 40 minutes. It adds 15 minutes to Frankfurt-Milan and Frankfurt-Zurich trips, 30 minutes to Stuttgart-Milan trips, and 45 minutes to Stuttgart-Zurich trips. In my view, this is an absolutely worthwhile tradeoff.

          • Alon Levy

            You’re missing a bunch of ongoing plans and even some existing lines:

            – The Zimmerberg Base Tunnel, with planned (soon to begin construction, I think?) extension south. This forces any Zurich-Milan alignment to be as planned in Bahn 2035, i.e. on the left bank of Lake Zurich, not on the right bank. Your second map gets it right, your first one doesn’t.

            – The Brenner Base Tunnel and connecting lines. This is to connect Innsbruck with Bolzano. There’s also an under-construction northern approach called the New Lower Inn Valley Railway, which is supposed to cut Munich-Innsbruck to just under an hour. Italy is planning high-speed approaches on its side, but nothing’s being built yet. That gets you Munich-Milan in about 3 hours (Wikipedia says 2:20 but I don’t know how much to believe that).

            – The Hanover-Würzburg HSR line. The Fulda-Würzburg portion is kind of pointless, but it exists and could be an interesting hook into Stuttgart, Frankfurt, and Nuremberg – it gets you Munich-Frankfurt in around 1:45, vs. 2:00 via Augsburg, Ulm, and Stuttgart (which should also be built for the intermediate cities).

            On top of this, I don’t get why Paris-Munich can’t go via Strasbourg and Karlsruhe, with a new Y connection toward Stuttgart. Remember, the LGV Est is underfull and the LGV Sud-Est is overfull, so whenever you have the choice of one or the other, go with Est – especially when Est is a lot faster, as it is with Munich.

            Have you seen this post of mine? It has a map of what Germany should be building, with tie-ins to Switzerland and other neighbors.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            – I’m familiar with the Zimmerberg Base Tunnel, but I see it as being more useful for freight and SBB service to Zug and Luzern. Obviously, I’d use it if the HSR line does end up being Stuttgart-Zurich, but with a Zurich-St Gallen-Memmingen high speed line, I think it’s worth it to locate the wye near Hinwil and cut ~45 km off Munich-Milan trains. It requires about 15 km of additional tunnel, but that should cut travel times and allow for 320 km/h passenger service which crucially gets Zurich-Lugano below an hour for takts.

            – The Brenner base tunnel is great for connecting Munich to North East and Central Italy, but the route via Zurich could get Munich-Milan, a VERY important city pair, down to 2:15 or so. That’s worth it.

            – I intentionally omitted the Fulda-Wurzburg line because I see its role as basically a very fast portion of a conventional intercity line, rather than being utilized by premium high speed service linking major metro areas. I suppose you could build out the Fulda-Wurzburg-Stuttgart and Frankfurt-Wurzburg-Nuremburg HSR cross, but are the time savings on Munich-Frankfurt and Hamburg-Stuttgart really worth 335km of new HSR lines. I certainly don’t think Wurzburg warrants it, and I don’t think it should be prioritized over lines like Zurich-Munich. After Frankfurt, Rhine-Ruhr, Berlin, and Munich, I’d argue Zurich is the most important city in Germanic Europe–at least in the same league as Hamburg, Stuttgart, and Vienna–and your plan underserves it.

            – I think Paris-Munich should be via Strasbourg and Karlsruhe, and that’s how I’d route it on the map I proposed. I just have it making a tight curve at Bruchsal, as I’m unconvinced the expenditure of building a big wye is worth it to essentially save 11 kilometers. I could go either way on the issue. The routes I see utilizing my line through Switzerland are Paris-Dijon-Basel-Zurich, Munich-Zurich-Lyon, Munich-Milan, and Frankfurt-Zurich-Milan.

            -I’ve seen the post and I agree with everything except the Stuttgart cross (just not worth it, and I think the Frankfurt-Mannheim HSL can handle the traffic at something like 4TPH Frankfurt-Stuttgart-Munich, 2TPH Frankfurt-Basel-Lyon, and 2TPH Frankfurt-Basel-Zurich-Milan.) It really isn’t that much longer to send Stuttgart traffic north through Frankfurt and Fulda. I have a few other minor quibbles–I would route the line through Munich up through Munich Airport with a wye afterwards to Ingolstadt and Linz; I would have Frankfurt traffic from Cologne and Fulda enter the city from the north via a wye at Bad Homburg, pass through the hauptbahhof on a north -south axis, then bend through FRA airport and split towards Mannheim and Saarbrucken; and I’d probably skip Duisburg in favor of sending all Ruhr traffic along a Dortmund-Essen-Dusseldorf-Cologne mainline, but on the whole, it’s basically ideal. I just think you really underrate the utility of an east-west HSL across Switzerland. It really brings Zurich closer to the rest of Europe, makes it faster to get from a lot of places to Milan and Northern Italy, and ties Germany into Southern France.

          • Max Wyss

            Zürich-München has a little bit of a problem: the Bodensee (I think the USAns call it Lake Constance), plus (a little bit less so) some hills in-between.

    • Alon Levy

      Porte Maillot has no RER A station – the RER A goes nonstop from La Défense to Étoile. Probably the best place for a Paris Hbf is under Gare du Nord/Est with tunnesl to Lyon and Montparnasse.

      • Vassilis Tzaferis

        SNCF actually proposed to build in the 80s-90s an underground TGV station for through running between LN1 and LN2 at République. I don’t see why you would build a new station at GDN. There’s not a lot of available space ad metro and rail lines are already over capacity.

      • Vassilis Tzaferis

        Actually in 2005 there was a project to build a new TGV station for through running between LN1 and LN2 at République: https://www.tourmag.com/Une-gare-TGV-en-plein-coeur-de-Paris_a10426.html. Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon are both located in already very crowded transport nodes with little room for new underground constructions. Also Marseille will get a new underground TGV station for through running at Saint-Charles and Part Dieu is also being upgraded, so SNCF understands quite well that through running is the future. Unfortunately our Government doesn’t care much about public works and mass transit so there’s only so much that can be done at the moment.

          • Vassilis Tzaferis

            I don’t want to get too political but i think that Macron’s “policies” regarding not only transit, but also the economy as a whole are completely retarded. The government’s official position regarding fiscal policy is to reduce taxes for businesses and high income brackets while reducing public spending, a policy that despite being pushed around by economists for more than 30, has been proven not to work. ( De facto public spending doesn’t go down because Macron needs to buy off interest groups such as the police and public administrators to implement his Thatcherian “reforms”.) Regarding transit itself (and public works in general), Macron has set back France by at least ten years. All LN (HSR) projects have either been indefinitely postponed (LNPN) or supposed to start after Macron’s two terms (LNPACA). This year the ministry of finance also reduced its annual financing for the maintenance of the existing network by 1 billion euros, prompting new budget cuts at SNCF. Concerning metro and commuter rail, the government has also reduced its financing to regions and prompted the cancellation of Paris Metro line 11’s extension to Noisy Champs, Line 1’s extension to Val de Fontenay, RER E’s new station at Bry Villiers Champigny, while delaying the completion of GPX.

          • Alon Levy

            Where are you seeing M1 extension cancellation? All I saw was that it might be delayed, but no reporting saying it is delayed or canceled. GPX is delayed because of internal project management issues, same reason as the cost overrun. LNPACA is extremely expensive, whereas the Bordeaux-Toulouse LGV is still in design and Borne said they’d start building the second phase of the LGV Rhin-Rhône in Macron’s second term.

          • michaelrjames

            Exactly.
            I doubt Macron has much to do with any of these transit issues (except obviously the pension stuff), as it’s bipartisan and almost all policy is, umm, like a freight train, been getting up to speed over years and decades and competently run by their administrations. (People, especially trainspotters, will nitpick anything …)

          • Vassilis Tzaferis

            The Macron government cut back funding for transportation and did not launch any new projects despite several of them being ready. The government in France typically signs a “contrat état région” which sets out state funding to the regions for transport. Last year Macron’s government did not sign a new CER with Ile de France when the 2015-2020 contract expired. Instead it just extended the current one until 2023 despite the fact that all allocated funds had been spent. This means that currently all public works in IDF are being financed by the region either through taxes paid to the Société du Grand Paris or through IDF mobilités/RATP. There are no funds for the M1 extension until at least 2023 ad the SGP siad tht it will notprovide funding for any new projects apart from the ongoing ones. Moreover you forget to mention that projects which are essentially ready such as LNPN and LGV interconnections sud and desperately needed are not being funded. The reason why the LGV Rhin Rhône’s phase two is being putforward is because Macron wants to get the EU to pay for it. Macron’s approach to transport is typical of that of a Thatcherite bean counter: cut back funding on new infrastructure, claim that you’ll use them to improve maintenance on the existing one while reducing funding for maintenance. The man’s ecological credentials are a complete scam: he claims that he wants to “Make the Planet Great again” while financing freeway widening and destroying the SNCF hahaha.

          • Alon Levy

            What destroyed SNCF was a decade of bad management, in which revenue fell because of OuiGo and other Ryanair-style schemes, passenger ridership stagnated because nobody actually likes Ryanair, and labor costs rose because the cheminots extracted all of SNCF’s primary profits through repeated strikes. The current reforms are a desperate attempt to fix this problem – one that isn’t great because they still listen to airline execs too much and to more successful rail managers (who are not French) too little, but “Macron is destroying SNCF” is a bad take given all that happened in the 8 years before he was elected.

            The maintenance issue is that SNCF spends around 50% more on maintenance than DB per route-km. This was mentioned briefly in the Spinetta Report; there wasn’t any note of that in the media at the time, and I don’t know whether there was any followup, but it’s a big chunk of SNCF’s deficit. I don’t know to what extent it’s related, but installing a new switch costs around €200,000 here and in Spain and €400,000 in France, and SNCF promised to cut costs in half through greater automation, so clearly there are efficiencies to be had, it’s not just deferring maintenance.

            How desperately needed is the LGV Interconnexion Sud anyway? The Orly connection is pretty useless, Orly competes with TGVs rather than complementing them the way CDG does. The Massy connection is neat but isn’t worth an entire line, it’s not a big job center and even though colleagues of Villani may benefit from the quicker connection to IHES, objectively speaking there isn’t enough on the RER B south of Massy to justify this line. The city-to-city connections suffer from problems like “Tours is too small” and “Bordeaux-Lyon would be massively faster via Toulouse.”

            LNPN, same thing. The distance between Paris and the main cities of Normandy is too short to justify an LGV.

            The main future investments SNCF needs are not really about its previous programs, because the Paris-provinces market really is mostly tapped out. Instead, it needs inter-provincial lines like Rhin-Rhône, Bordeaux-Toulouse-Perpignan, a less stupid alignment for the approach from Lyon to the Mont d’Ambin Base Tunnel (get it to Grenoble, for fuck’s sake), through-tracks at Marseille, and maybe an LGV to Nantes. If it’s somehow possible to build a Paris 21, probably under Gare du Nord because there’s no room at Les Halles, then that would be amazing. Then it needs to adapt Swiss planning maxims about integrated transfers and timetable-rolling stock-infrastructure integration, which means things like getting EMUs instead of being pretty much the last HSR operator in the world with power cars, having repeating clockface schedules, timing the TGVs and TERs to meet rather than miss each other, etc.

            None of this is about French nationalists’ dislike of everything Macron does because he openly speaks English, how dare he. (It’s not that he’s a liberal, Chirac and Sarkozy did everything leftists dislike about Macron and worse.) SNCF has a lot of problems, which go back to the 1990s and 2000s. The problem here is France, not factions within France, same way the infinitely worse problem with Amtrak is the US and not any one specific group within the US.

            And also, Toulouse Line C is getting funded.

      • Car(e)-Free LA

        A new station on RER A can be added pretty easily, and if a Paris Central station is built over there, then the vast majority of traffic if headed pretty far west into the city. Moreover, it still doesn’t solve the problem of linking in the LGV Atlantique.

        • Vassilis Tzaferis

          The RER A is already over capacity (1.4 billion riders/yea) and a relief line is currently being built to alleviate the load (EOLE extension of RER E). There’s no capacity for the extra ridership that would be brought by a new station in Paris.

  12. Yom Sen

    There is more demand to and from Paris not only because it is the capital and by far the largest city in a heavily centralised country: Paris is the only place in France where transit is perceived as easier than driving to go around, so many people rather take the train to go to Paris and at the same time Parisians take the train simply because they don’t own cars. Everywhere else in France driving has become the default solution for whoever can afford it. See this article (in French) https://www.lemonde.fr/blog/transports/2018/04/12/train-pour-les-autres/

    TGV intersecteurs (that go through Ile de France with stops in Paris suburbs) could have been a solution with a parallel network organised on the German model with hourly schedules and timed connections. Unfortunately, that was never really the case, so they are not very successful except maybe Lille – Lyon. The way the LGV were built means that the TGV intersecteurs need to make stops outside cities with no connection with regional trains or leave the LGV and lose almost 20 min at every stop.

    • Herbert

      So who is riding all the new trams in non Paris cities that keep being built to rave reviews and with broad political consensus behind them?

      • fjod

        Urban transportation is doing well in France – this article is discussing regional, rural and small-town transport, with a particular focus on the train. From my experience and from some of the usage stats, regional trains in France are awful, especially in comparison to its neighbours. Perhaps ‘trains’ would have been more accurate than ‘transit’ in the comment above.

          • fjod

            It isn’t the case that rural transit needs to be as bad it is in France. The key point in my comment is ‘in comparison to its neighbours’; especially Switzerland and the Low Countries, but also Germany and the UK, run most/all rural and regional train lines at least hourly and on a clockface schedule. As a result they tend to get significantly higher ridership on such routes. Either of these innovations would be a massive step up for regional rail in France.

        • michaelrjames

          It’s really silly to try to compare France to most of those countries. Switzerland is one seventh the size, but really more like one twentieth after geographical considerations; the issues are just too different. France only has these “issues” in its regions because it is so big. The Auvergne is almost as big as Switzerland. As I said before, this is the main reason why TGVs are mostly express to the terminus. Already the econocrats (eg. Spinetta Report) want to close down up to 45% of SNCF’s rural network, as if that would improve anything for anyone except a few beancounters (and after network effects, maybe not even them; ask Brits post-Beeching). It is in this context that run-on TGVs make sense, ie. extending deeper into the network on non-LGV track. The rail network is to serve the mobility of the nation not the spreadsheets of accountants.

          • Alon Levy

            I don’t think any of the lines the Spinetta Report wanted to axe has any TGV through-service. The lines recommended for closure are things like Nice-Breil.

          • michaelrjames

            You said it was 45% of its network which Spinetta says takes 15% of SNCFs budget for only 2% traffic. Sounds all pretty dodgy to me (and is it SNCF who really funds such outlier rural lines? I thought it was supposed to be those communes? A fudge of some sort I suppose?)

          • Alon Levy

            45% of route-length, 15% of the budget, 2% of passenger traffic. These are very lightly-used lines, and it hurts France’s pride too much to taktify them to enable better connections with lines that connect to more interesting places. Of course, it hurts France’s pride even more to actually axe them, so they’re staying.

            The lines are funded partly by SNCF, partly by the regions. TER service is funded by the regions, but whatever they call the low-speed intercity lines this year is funded by SNCF, and I think track maintenance is funded by SNCF as well.

          • michaelrjames

            I’d rather have France’s pride than whatever the heck the Brits have got in its place.

            And, as I have asked previously, what is the real cost of this 15% (a few hundred k euros of its ≈€1.6bn annual deficit excluding interest on debt)? Spinetta was charged with solving a preconceived problem with SNCF but is it real?

          • Alon Levy

            There exist countries in the world that are neither French nor English, is the thing.

            And yes, the problem with SNCF is absolutely real. It went from profitable in 2010 to money-losing by 2018, and intercity railroads in this part of the world don’t normally lose money.

          • michaelrjames

            You mean Switzerland and The Netherlands ….

            And that “problem” of losses, just how much are they? Try expressing it as a percent of GDP, or even as revenue. Remember that it is the EU’s imposition of treatment of capital outlay as debt that made the real difference. Imagine where JR would be if the same accounting rules applied (we don’t have to imagine–we know that all the privatised JRs would be bankrupt). Why treat rail this way and not roads?

          • Alon Levy

            I mean, technically it’s not a problem because the fact that SNCF loses money means it doesn’t mind long cheminot strikes, often over clawbacks in benefits that the cheminots managed to get while SNCF was profitable. But in reality, rising intercity rail provision costs and stalling ridership are a problem.

            And the mainland privatized JRs are highly profitable.

          • adirondacker12800

            France only has these “issues” in its regions because it is so big.

            It’s as roughly big as the Northeastern U.S. if you move Delaware and Maryland into the Northeast instead of the Southeast. With a similar population. The Northeast has the advantage of most of the people being along one corridor.

          • michaelrjames

            France is 25% bigger than California but the better analogue is probably Texas which is only a bit bigger but similar proportions and separation of major cities and perhaps why it just might be the first state to get HSR. And most of its big cities are near its periphery, hence the original conception of HSR. In my mind, it seems to have achieved its goals, or will (Nice and Toulouse are the remaining big cities not yet on a LGV).

            Your comparison with the NEC is of course nothing but an embarrassment for Amtrak. Though the trains have a fair amount of Alstom’s TGV in them.

          • adirondacker12800

            Texas has a much smaller population. Which means there will be less demand. The NEC is an embarrassment for Senators from the hinterland who don’t want to spend any money on the people who pay the taxes that supply all their subsides.

          • Vassilis Tzaferis

            JR companies are profitable bacause they have been massively subsidised by the Japanese government.They get very favorable concessions for new infrastructure paid for with public funds(Chuo Shinkansen) and inherited JNR’s massive infrastructure without having totake on JNR’s just as assive debt. A big component of Japan’s public debt is JNR debt.The SNCF is in a similar spot to that of China Railway or formerly JNR. It had to build lots of infrastructure without appropriate budget grants and thus had to borrow lots of money and resort to ruinous PPPs with Vinci. The decline of the french industrial sector and rail freight is also another cause in my opinion of declining revenues. The only way to get SNCF back to profitability is to fight against the vested interests of pension funds which own toll road concessions/concessionnaires (Vinci, SANEF) and inject budget monies in new infrastructure for freight.

          • Alon Levy

            Pretty much everything you’re saying is incorrect. The Chuo Shinkansen is paid with private funds. The legacy Shinkansen lines charge the JRs interest; it’s low interest, but Japanese interest rates are very low. The JNR debt was from past operating losses in the 1971-1987 period. SNCF likewise posted primary profits 10 years ago, losing a bit of money due to interest on past operating debt (and paying more than that in taxes), but over the last decade it went into primary deficit, as JNR did in 1971. Freight is a nice way to earn money on the side, but DB Fernverkehr is profitable and the mainland JRs are profitable without freight. The LGV SEA was indeed an expensive PPP, but the contemporary LGV Est Phase 2 wasn’t.

          • fjod

            michaelrjames – I’m comparing like with like within each country. French TER and Intercités trains are infrequent and inconsistent even when compared with the trains in *similarly dense* areas of neighbouring countries. Some examples of how low-demand, low-density routes are managed in neighbouring countries:
            – The Netherlands runs a service from some assorted villages, none bigger than 7500 people, to Groningen (200k inhabitants), and it runs it half-hourly and clockface.
            – The UK runs a branch line over 55km from Barnstaple (25k) to Exeter (130k) passing through no settlements of note, and it runs it hourly and clockface.
            – Switzerland runs a train from the small town of Porrentruy (pop 7000) to three outlying villages clockface and hourly with peak extras.
            – DB runs a 50km branch line from Wismar (pop 50k) to Rostock (pop 200k) hourly and clockface. And this isn’t even particularly impressive for a flow like this.

            Meanwhile France can’t even get consistent timetabling on the 70km route from Castres (pop 40k) into Toulouse (pop 1 *million*), which has a 3-hour gap in the mid-afternoon and many other 2-hour gaps (but also some inexplicable 40-minute gaps at the start and end of service).

          • Yom Sen

            I always see this argument that you can’t compare France to Switzerland (or other countries) because it’s much less dense.
            Yes it’s true, Switzerland has a geography very well suited to railways with most of the population living in the high density Swiss Plateau and most of the rest concentrated along Alpine valleys. It doesn’t have these large areas with very low density like massif central or Argonne.
            On the other hand:
            Nord-Pas-de-Calais is similar to Swiss Plateau by its density and size
            Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur have perfect geography for railways with nearly all population on either mediterranean coast or Rhone and Durance valleys.
            Loire, Rhone, Saone, Seine, Moselle and Rhine valleys have also population concentrated along the rivers.
            Switzerland doesn’t have a very dense megacity like Paris.
            As a small, federal and linguistically divided country, it has much less demand for long distance travel than a bigger and centralized country like France.
            You can’t compare the whole CFF network to the whole SNCF network but you can compare Geneva – Lausanne to Lyon – Saint-Etienne or Marseille – Toulon, Zurich – Basel to Paris – Rouen or Marseille – Montpellier, Zurich – Geneva to Lyon – Marseille, Porrentry – Delémont in Swiss Jura to Dole – Saint-Claude in French Jura (3 trains a day…) or Zurich S-Bahn to Lyon’s lack of RER. You can also compare many Swiss rural areas served by 1 bus per hour with a French town I know with 1 bus per day at 6:30 am that you need to book the day before. And apart maybe for Lyon – Marseille thanks to TGV high speed, all these comparisons are not very good for France.
            France has a good TGV network, but only as Alon pointed out, for strong markets, mostly from and to Paris. France has also quite good and improving urban transport inside the largest cities + the RER in Paris. For the rest, there is a lot to improve to arrive at the Swiss or Dutch level or even at the German level.

          • michaelrjames

            Yom Sen.
            In my opinion you just proved that France has an excellent rail system. If it is less than perfect then you have well explained why: the cost of extending Swiss type rail across a country vastly bigger is beyond what governments or democracies will support. I have absolutely no doubt that Alon and others who criticise SNCF have some valid points but there is an air of unreality about it all. Already the Spinetta report and the assorted econocratic forces behind that kind of thinking (which can be summarised as “destroy the village to save the village”) would close 45% of the network, and of course that is the more rural parts which appear to be the parts you and Swiss advocates wish to improve! Kind of a cognitive dissonance going on here.

            The TGV network gets most people perhaps three quarters of their journey at the optimal speed & frequency, to the distant nodes of a big country. Perhaps this really is the best strategy? No one on this blog has convinced me that pointing to the wonderful Swiss system demonstrates much of practical significance.

            And in any case France does have something every bit as good as the best in Swtizerland: Ile de France which happens to have a population 50% higher than all of Switzerland! And, take out the uninhabitable mountains, close to the same size!

          • Alon Levy

            Re costs: Switzerland’s system evolved exactly because in the 1980s its government had no appetite for the high construction costs of high-speed rail in mountainous terrain where tunnels are unavoidable. In France, there wasn’t such appetite in the 1970s either – SNCF famously had to get Wall Street bond funding for the LGV Sud-Est, and somewhat less famously had to open the line in stages, opening 2/3 of it in 1981 and the rest in 1983. This runaway success led to the construction of the other LGVs, which has worked really well to get people from Paris to Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux, and Strasbourg, and will eventually work with Paris-Toulouse, but these markets are getting tapped out and future growth requires a different model.

            The best comparison here is not Switzerland, but Britain. Britain and France are a lot more similar than either country would admit, which may be why each country spends so much time telling itself it is superior to the other. In both countries, there is a megacity of a capital with high public transport usage, secondary cities with mode shares in the mid-teens, and smaller cities in which everyone owns a car and riding public transport is considered a mark of poverty or deviance. Intercity transport is likewise dominated by trips from the capital to the major provincial cities, and trips that are not on a mainline to the capital can be quite slow. There are some differences – Paris has somewhat higher transit ridership than London, Birmingham and Manchester and such have somewhat higher transit ridership (almost all on buses) than Marseille and such, Britain has fast legacy mainlines but no HSR, France has poor frequency on inter-provincial lines whereas Britain at least has hourly or half-hourly clockface schedules. But broadly, it’s similar.

            This is important, because Britain is currently repeating the TGV’s worst mistake (it’s set up poorly for inter-provincial travel) in a context in which it is easier to avoid (because all the major provincial cities of Britain except Bristol are due north of London), without repeating the TGV’s best quality (the TGV had low construction costs until the PPP plague caught up with it).

          • michaelrjames

            I can agree with almost all of that. Ever since I lived in both for a longish time, I have pointed that out. Population and GDPs are almost identical. It’s why I came to be such a Francophile. It is a rare real-world example of direct fair comparison on politics and many things, with one being so clearly superior (in outcome, the only thing worth measuring; I’m speaking about today, or more strictly, since post-war, putting prior history to one side). And yes, this is almost 180° opposite to the Anglosphere press & media rhetoric which is so relentless that I reckon they have convinced quite a few French that it is true!

            However, regarding SNCF and the criticisms, I am a lot less certain of their validity. Your “worst mistake” of poor inter-regional travel was the choice of prioritising the spoke & hub model that serves the provincial cities best. As for the PPP plague, well it was forced on SNCF by the neoliberal times (and enforced by EU rules). That it blew out costs, well that is its true purpose. As the maxim goes, “follow the money”.

            Eric’s last comment also shows when big cities are en route, the LGVs can stop there, or thru-run, which is planned for Paris-Bordeaux-Toulouse, and Agen and Montauban in the Garonne valley between Bordeaux-Toulouse, and eventually Toulouse to Narbonne/Montpellier. I think the planners might have been reading my mind!

          • fjod

            What do you mean by “serves the provincial cities best”? It’s not clear to me that having good TGVs and awful regional trans (France) is better service than having average intercity trains and average regional trains (Britain). Based purely on passenger numbers in regional British and French stations, the French model seems a little worse. And the fact that LGVs “could” stop at cities en route doesn’t mean that they actually do this in practice, so this does remain a significant flaw with the French system.

          • Tonami Playman

            @Alon, regarding Britain’s HS2, how would you suggest the system be designed to enable better inter-provincial travel? One glaring problem I see is the high levels of branching suggesting the line will be saturated almost as soon as it is opened. The section between Euston station and Birmingham interchange could benefit from quad tracking, future proofing it from congestion.

          • michaelrjames

            regarding Britain’s HS2, how would you suggest the system be designed to enable better inter-provincial travel?

            That misunderstands the strategy behind HS2. They are building an entirely new ROW for HS2 because the existing line is crowded. Given its heavy use it is also awkward to repair or update–it is notorious for weekend closures. So HS2 will be the semi-express fastest connection between major cities while the old route will (1) be upgraded once HS2 (phase 1) is in service, (2) serve more of the intermediate stops. Everyone wins. Even if it costs a fortune.
            ……………………
            The Bordeaux-Toulouse route has clearly been a political compromise on serving more than just the big cities; and obviously it would have been peculiar if it didn’t run thru Bordeaux (though this incurs a significant time penalty measuring Paris-Toulouse). The point is that they will build LGV or new stations for a few of the bigger towns (yes, not necessarily in the centre of those towns) to have the option of TGV service. Being a completist I wish they would get on and finish it and build the final piece in the network, Toulouse to Narbonne/Montpellier. Instead they seem to have prioritised the LGV-SEA which, while reaching the furtherest pocket of the Hexagon (Biarritz), the west coast of Spain is not much used (though I did use it myself on my last journey into Spain, and this was the route of the discontinued Paris-Madrid sleeper train). Quite likely they are only prioritising LGV-SEA because it is already a very flat and straight route (through the endless forests of Landes) so is cheap to upgrade.

          • Matthew Hutton

            HS2 could go through the centre of Birmingham. And it could have 4 tracks at least between Birmingham and London and possibly between Birmingham and Manchester and Leeds. That would let you have stops in Aylesbury, Winslow, the M25, Warwick university, Stoke, Derby etc on the slower tracks.

          • Car(e)-Free LA

            That’s probably not necessary, given HSR can top out at 18TPH with uniform stopping patterns, but a station should be built in Birmingham Moor Street with a wye around Lichfield with 9TPH splitting along the eastern branch to Derby Midland, Sheffield, and Leeds and another 9 TPH splitting along the western branch to Stoke-on-Trent and Manchester Piccadilly. I’m unconvinced any stations should be built between London and Birmingham, but a station someplace like Watford could service a lot more of the commuter belt. This set of stations would allow very straightforward to and between all of the cities in the Midlands and the North, and would definitely have more capacity than allowed by the currently proposed convoluted service patterns.

  13. SB

    Quebec-Windsor Corridor HSR has through-running vs branch debate.
    Existing diesel legacy service has two branches for Ottawa (Toronto-Ottawa and Montreal-Ottawa) and crosses St. Lawerence River twice (after Montreal and before Quebec city)
    So should Ottawa be on main HSR line or get a spur?
    Toronto-Montreal should have the highest demand so not bypassing Ottawa should save time and money but Ottawa is the Capital and has strong demand for both Toronto-Ottawa and Montreal-Ottawa.
    It is also possible for HSR line remain north of St. Lawerence River and serve Montreal with a spur.
    But I highly doubt that any HSR plans would give Montreal a spur because Montreal is second largest city on the corridor.

    • adirondacker12800

      It might save time but not much and building a spur may cost more than not building a spur. How long is the spur?

    • Brendan Dawe

      For the walking distance, Montreal-Toronto Direct is only 19 kilometers shorter than Montreal-Ottawa Toronto

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