The railway network

An immense web built up over time, the French railway network is in a state of perpetual change. To enhance passenger mobility and the transporting of goods, and to ensure the safety of these activities, the railway network regularly carries out upgrades and modernisation works.

The second largest railway network after Germany

A dense and high capacity railway network

SNCF Réseau operates 30,000 km of lines in service throughout all of France.

To manage the train traffic on this giant web of railway lines, SNCF Réseau uses signalling and safety systems:

  • 15,000 level crossings which are regularly upgraded and secured
  • 2,200 signal boxes, including 1,250 electrical substations

To optimise railway traffic – whatever the type of terrain - civil engineers have constructed tens of thousands of infrastructures, some of which have become real symbols of France’s railway heritage:

  • 1,576 tunnels have been bored for a total length of 656 km
  • 1,201 foot bridges go over the railway tracks

View of the Garabit Viaduct The famous Garabit viaduct  makes it easy to cross the Truyère gorges in a blink of an eye

In addition, due to the great differences in the characteristics of the network and the trains travelling on it, the speed limits vary depending on the line.

Vigirail Plan 2014-2017: modernising network maintenance

Launched in 2013, the Vigirail Plan includes, among other things, the replacement of 500 railway switches per year in the entire network. Such an impressive performance is made possible by the use of modern industrial devices such as the Kirow railway cranes and transporters, which easily move around large railway equipment. Moreover, smartphones, tablets and video devices are now part of the standard equipment of operators working along the train tracks.

 Supporting and preparing for increased traffic flows

Encouraging mobility is one of the main missions of SNCF Réseau. Supporting the resulting increase in traffic flows is another one. Over the last 10 years, passenger transport has increased by 50%, for TER regional express trains, 40% for Ile-de-France Transilien transport and 30% for the TGV.

On a daily basis, this increase in traffic represents:

  • 6.15 million train paths
  • 15,000 trains (including 10,000 in the Ile-de-France)
  • 5 million passengers (including 3.2 million in the Ile-de-France)
  • 25,000 tonnes of transported merchandise

Optimising traffic flows could generate strong growth potential

The French railway network already boasts a very high level of performance, but has several opportunities for further improvement:

  • modernising the network throughout all of France
  • integrating the LGV high-speed lines into the national railway network
  • compensating the great difference in traffic flow between lines with more than 150 train passages per day and those with less than 10 trains per day.

A passing train along the coastline. The tourist line between Perpignan and Cerbere highlights the disparity in needs of the network users

The electrical network – the real nerve-centre of the railway network

15,687 km of railway lines are electrified. They power 90% of passenger travel and 85% of freight transport. The remaining lines use other systems such as electrical power supply provided by a third rail.

Several types of electrical systems

5,863 km of railway lines to the south of Paris still operate using a 1,500 volt, medium-voltage electrical system. In the past, this system was widespread, but it has been progressively replaced sine the 1950s by a 25,000 volt single-phase current system which is more modern and less costly.