Transdev appointed to replace SNCF on Marseille-Nice
Posted on Oct 28, 2021 4:20 PM
The South Region (ex-Paca) had already sold the wick at the beginning of September, but this time it’s official: the regional parliament unanimously chose Transdev to operate the regional line Marseille-Toulon-Nice instead of the TER SNCF, from July 2025.
Breaking for the first time the monopoly of the incumbent operator, on a line currently representing 10% of local traffic. Transdev, a subsidiary of the Caisse des Dépôts which mainly operates cars and buses in France, and trains in Germany, will be one of the very first “alternative” entrants to the regional tricolor rail… 31 years after Germany abolished the monopoly of Deutsche Bahn, which had the effect of reducing by a quarter the financial contributions of candidate local authorities, slips a rail specialist.
The contract will be signed for 10 years and represents an expenditure of 870 million euros for the region, to which is added 275 million to order 16 new trains from Alstom. The start-up time is quite long since a new maintenance hall will have to be built in Nice. In accordance with the region’s wishes, Transdev will then operate 14 daily round trips on this coastline, instead of 7 today. The new ERTMS signaling system, partly financed by Europe and other works on the track, on the outskirts of Marseille and Nice, makes it possible to increase throughput and reduce delays.
SNCF keeps a lot
In addition, the SNCF also recovers for 10 years the Azur or “Etoile de Nice” batch, from December 2024, already in its fold, and which represents 23% of regional traffic, a batch to which Transdev did not apply. These lines mainly include Les Arcs / Nice / Vintimille, Cannes / Grasse, or Nice / Tende.
To win, any new entrant must make more attractive proposals to the regional executive, which bears the deficit on these so-called agreed lines. How to optimize resources, when employers refuse any “social dumping”? A not so simple exercise, given the age of the Riviera route, and the automatic takeover of SNCF railway workers providing the current service (some 166 for Transdev).
Low effective working time
“In France, the TER operate at peak and tail, with strong traffic dips, it is difficult to do otherwise. So much so that the average effective work per employee is often only 2h30 per agent ”, according to Franck Tuffereau, general delegate of the French Rail Association (AFRA). It remains to play on “versatility”, an honest word to the SNCF which consists in entrusting other tasks to the agents during the day.
Making good heart against bad luck, the SNCF especially retains the increase of the railway cake in the long term, facing the archidominant car in Paca. “All the openings are accompanied by an increase in the number of daily trains: a doubling on Marseille-Nice, and a 75% increase in the offer on the Etoile de Nice”, according to Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs . On the economic side, he admits that the company has moved in recent years, “but we have come halfway.” For him, the TER have seen their delays decrease by 30% throughout France, and passenger satisfaction was constantly rising with the Covid.
Five regions already candidates
Besides Paca, four other regions have launched the same competitive process for some of their TER lines: Hauts de France, Pays-de-la-Loire, Grand Est and Ile-de-France, with a later schedule. The others, who are not tempted or are waiting to see, could drag things out until 2033, by signing with the SNCF a final direct agreement of ten years, at the deadline of the end of 2021. The very recent standoff between Hauts-de-France and SNCF, which led the latter to urgently dispatch additional staff and resources to already provide a plummeting quality of service, shows that its renewal on disputed lots will be anything but automatic.