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. The trains travel over 30,000 km of railway lines, including 2,024 km for high-speed travel. Along the way there are 1,742 tunnels, 26,733 viaducts and bridges, 1,142 footbridges and 2,271 signal boxes. Train speed is limited to 160, 200 or 220 km/h depending on the railway segment. The trains account for several tens of millions of train-km (an international unit of measure representing the total distance travelled by the trains on the network).

A dense and high capacity railway network

SNCF Réseau operates 51,217 km of main railway lines, including 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 has highly effective signalling and safety systems:

  • 17, 351 level crossings which are regularly upgraded and secured
  • 2,271 signal boxes, including 1,245 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:

  • 1,742 tunnels have been bored for a total length of 637 km
  • 26,733 bridges and viaducts over bodies of water and valleys
  • 22,323 retaining walls and other supporting structures increase the stability of the most inclined embankments
  • 1,142 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. Since 1997 passenger transport has increased by 47%, while TGV high-speed traffic has risen by 102% and TER regional trans by 90%.

Each year SNCF Réseau responds to a total of more than 7 million requests for rail paths, broken down as follows:

  • 180 million train km (an international unit of measure representing the total distance travelled by the trains on the network) for TER regional express trains
  • 160 million train km for TGV high-speed trains
  • 80 million train km for freight
  • 60 million train km for Ile-de-France train service
  • 50 million for the other major lines such as Corail, Corail Inter Cités and Inter-regional trains.

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 equipped with electrical lines. 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 1500 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.