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France’s new high-speed trains (citylab.com)
161 points by Osiris30 19 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 234 comments



SNCF is fiddling with the wrong things.

It doesn't need to separate train operations from rail track network maintenance. It doesn't need to open up the network to competition.

What it needs to do is cut the number of excessive public sector workers, reduce costs, and stop running the business like a political arm of the government.

I can bet that the reason they think they need to do all these things is that cost pressure is rising on them, and they think they need to branch out / cut off compartments of the business to make it better. But this is tinkering rather than addressing the fundamental issues (inability to fire people, change cost structure, etc. due to political interference).

Public rail is a money-losing venture, in every country (except Hong Kong). That's what "public" means. But it's important to have. Just how much money-losing depends on the political environment and skill of the management. UK tried this sort of thing and it left everyone with a shittier experience, though they could claim that they successfully privatized the industry -- everyone knows that's a total lie.

At least France has a history of pride in the speed of the trains, so that will keep things in check a bit. They'll pay through the nose for it though.


"Public rail is a money-losing venture"

So are public schools, public hospitals and national defence. But they are enablers of everything else that we do and the actual purpose of government and taxes.

Public transport needs to be as efficient as it can be while providing the services needed. There are additional benefits like providing a training environment for trades, ensuring that a heavy engineering skillbase is maintained, social cohesiveness and equality of opportunity to remote populations etc.


So you're saying that a publicly funded utility should provide some kind of beneficial service to the public? Like it's some kind of public service?


The government should not be engaging in money losing ventures to provide services that private companies will provide at no cost (other than point of service cost) to taxpayers.

If they want to run a jobs program then fine, run a jobs program. Don't pretend your jobs program is an infrastructure program though.

I have no problem with the government spending tax money on things, that's kind of its job, but resources are not infinite (eventually you run out of other people's money). I know this is a much hated opinion among the HN demographic and I won't win internet brownie points for saying it but government should not be spending taxpayer money on services private entities are willing to provide. Government should spend its money on things private industry won't do (like social safety nets, education and funding R%D for things private industry doesn't care about).


> services that private companies will provide at no cost to taxpayers

Like the private train companies that run around handing free rides to everyone?


>Like the private train companies that run around handing free rides to everyone?

Well good for them that they've found an alternate way to be profitable.

If said profitability comes from a poorly spec'd out contract that somehow lets them screw the government out of money instead of charging people for the service then that's a corruption and integrity of public officials problem


I have no problem with the government spending tax money on things but resources are not infinite (eventually you run out of other people's money) and in lieu of that they should not be spending taxpayer money on services private entities are willing to provide.

What if private entities are willing to provide an essential service, but due to effects like lack of effective competition or economies of scale, most/all people wind up paying more direct to the profit-making private entity than they would via tax to a publicly funded service?


> Public rail is a money-losing venture, ... But it's important to have. Just how much money-losing depends on the political environment and skill of the management.

Arguably, all public rail should lose money. Quality transportation is a huge economic driver of regional economies. If a rail service is making money, it likely means governments are underinvesting in their own economies.


It usually also means that public transport is too expensive for those who are in need of it the most (e.g. people who can’t afford a car or for whom owning a car doesn’t make any sense — which is arguably more common in Europe than the US)


> TOKYO -- East and West Japan Railway have both forecast record profits for the fiscal year ending March 2018, anticipating more bullet train passengers and higher income from real estate and other noncore operations. > West Japan Railway said Friday it expects a group net profit of 109 billion yen ($978 million) for the fiscal year through March 2018, up 19% on the year.

Full article: https://asia.nikkei.com/Editor-s-Picks/Japan-Update/JR-East-...

JR East annual report: https://www.jreast.co.jp/e/investor/ar/2018/pdf/ar_2018-all....


Yes, but Japan also has trice the population density of France and most of the people are focused in the gargantuan city landscapes like the greater Tokyo bay area. Makes it a lot easier to saturate the trains while maintaining a reasonable timetable.


JR rails makes an important part of its benefits from the huge commercial centers (Atrée & others) they run in their stations. That's a model that works in Japan, but cannot run everywhere. Not every country is a tiny island with such a dense urbanisation.


I read an interesting article about this a while back.

Something distinctive about the Japanese rail culture is that they build lots of communal facilities right next to their stations. For example, people routinely stop and do their shopping on the way home from work, even though they're getting home by train (though this idea isn't just about shops).

Compare that to typical Western railway stations, where a huge amount of the prime real estate right next to the trains is used for giant car parks, and you can see that the success of their model is no accident. Of course, we couldn't trivially adopt the same strategy in the West. Unlike the Japanese, we haven't been designing our towns and cities around this principle for a long time, and as the parent comment notes, we also don't have the same density. That means we do need ways for people to get to the station from the surrounding area.

Often good alternatives to the car are still lacking in the West, which then creates an unfortunate chicken and egg scenario. But that doesn't mean the Japanese model isn't potentially better than ours, if only we could find a viable path from one to the other.


It's not just Japan. German train stations are also mini-malls, frequently with grocery stores in them, along with restaurants, clothing stores, etc. (depending on the size of the station of course).


It usually does. Actually I am not familiar with one example where public rail actually makes a profit, in real terms. All public rail systems I know or have read about are subsidized by the state either directly or via subsidizing the fare for the traveler (or both).


I think we should stop counting profit as “how much tickets you sold” minus “how much money you spent”, but look at the effects of a public train system on the whole economy.

I grew up in the Alps and I can guarantee that certain very profitable touristic locations wouldn’t even remotely work if there was no affordable and reliable train network that connected them to a airport, unless you want to turn some alpine area into a huge parking lot. On the same line that connects that spot to the cities there might be ten completely uninteresting villages whose population kinda relies on these trains to e.g. go to school, go shopping in the city etc. Some lines might not have any touristic benefit, but they raise the value of the whole network because it increases the destinations you can reach via train.

In nations that have high petrol prices and where train networks already exist, train networks can be unprofitable and still boost economy as a whole.

The question is: should everybody finance everybody elses mobility to a certain degree when it benefits economy as a whole?

For me the answer is quite clear. I grew up in small village in some valley in the alps. Without affordable public transport I would have been devastated as a teenager. A profitable train network usually takes that profit from somewhere and that somewhere is typically public.

I’d rather have an unprofitable train network that works, paid by my taxes than a profitable that doesn’t work even if I were prepared to pay for it. Same goes for Internet, Mobile networks, Water, Electricity.


That wasn't my point. I only highlighted the fact that indeed they operate at a loss and the companies themselves or the price of the ticket are partially funded/subsidized by the state. This is why I suggested they don't make a profit "in real terms", meaning actual profit in the company's financial report, not indirect effects. You don't seem to contradict this despite the downvote.

The point was not to debate whether this is a good move or not, if it stimulates an economy or not, etc. I live in a country here the rail system is heavily subsidized and I'm happy for it as it is.


Sorry if I read something into your post that you didn’t intend to say. Lack of profit is often used as an argument against public transport in discussions, especially from people who grew up in places where cars ar the norm, petrol is cheap and there is no real public transport (e.g. the US).

Sorry if I misrepresented your post.


Years ago I read an article where the author argued that between network effects and indirect beneficiaries of transportation services markets are extremely sub-optimal. Also the value of the service varies widely as well. One box contains a toaster anotherbox contains a vital part needed to get a machine shop back up and running.


The French government passed a law in mid-2018 that ends the special "cheminot" contract for new hires. It will effectively grandfather the old way in 10-20 years, and make it smaller every year.

So I don't think this is fair or accurate: "rather than addressing the fundamental issues (inability to fire people, change cost structure"


Nor did that changed anything. Most employees are contractors nowadays.

French politics must stop playing with trains and grow up. And fire the management that's been there for 10 years and made it worst.


Public rail is only a money losing venture if you consider that ticket sales is the only benefit it provides and that those need to fully cover the exploitation. If that were the case, rip out the subways in any US city, shut down the airports, break up the highways (who pays for those?), etc. Most of that kind of infrastructure does not happen without tax payer money.

The reality is that the economic side effects of connecting cities with each other such that people can travel easily between them facilitates a lot of business to happen. Having access to infrastructure such as working internet, good housing and health care, public transport, etc. are per-requisites for running any successful business.

In France, the high speed rail network which has been there for decades now has meant that a lot of business trips to major French cities can be done in a single business day without requiring lots of planes to fly. That makes a lot of difference for cities that are far from Paris. Also it means that getting to Paris from anywhere in France is typically easy and straightforward.


>UK tried this sort of thing and it left everyone with a shittier experience, though they could claim that they successfully privatized the industry -- everyone knows that's a total lie.

Passenger volumes have more than doubled since privatisation, after a long period of stagnation under nationalisation. While walk-on fares have increased above the rate of inflation, advance fares are substantially cheaper. The supposed problems of the British rail network resemble that Yogi Berra quote - "nobody goes there any more, it's too crowded".

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21056703

https://www.stagecoach.com/media/insight-features/the-facts-...


That's really not a fair reflection.

Privatisation came after nearly 20 years of Tory under investment and far from adequate under several administrations previously. It was, by the time of Major, a very predictable and well-worn trope. What better way to "prove" your lawn needs a private mowing service than barely mowing the lawn for a decade or two? It's quite easy to see why rolling stock was far beyond expected life.

There was plenty wrong, many of which would have been resolved with adequate funding for newer rolling stock, routes, electrification and capacity. Investments that have come painfully slowly outside the South East, mostly with public funds, since privatisation. The cliche of terrible sandwiches was often true - well if you're being deprived of funds better to keep the train running than the sandwiches fresh. The meals in dining cars managed to stay pretty damn good. Far better than having a trolley service only, for instance.

Major's privatisation was a case of "anything but this". Separating track, rolling stock and station building into three different companies was nuts. Public subsidy plummeted after privatisation, until inadequate maintenance was identified as cause of the Hatfield crash. Then reached never before seen peaks. They're still fiddling around to try and remove the systemic consequences of how it was privatised. Nothing that even slightly resembles the integrated transport The Netherlands can manage.

Season tickets have increased in line with inflation, only because they were pegged by statute to inflation +/- 1%. On the day tickets, which didn't get that protection, have increased vastly in real terms. Don't forget the UK rushed to the car far more than European neighbours - Beeching etc - it's little surprise to see rail growing faster now we have gridlocked roads, having been pruned to almost non-existence.

After 20 years it's not the disaster it might have been - mainly "thanks" to Hatfield - but it's far from a success. Especially outside the South East and on prices. Heaven help you if you ever use the trans Pennine.

Seeing as this is on an article about TGV, just how is UK doing with high speed rail? Northern Powerhouse? Double decker trains?


> Separating track, rolling stock and station building into three different companies was nuts. Public subsidy plummeted after privatisation, until inadequate maintenance was identified as cause of the Hatfield crash. Then reached never before seen peaks. They're still fiddling around to try and remove the systemic consequences of how it was privatised. Nothing that even slightly resembles the integrated transport The Netherlands can manage.

Just curious, what are they doing in the Netherlands?

One argument I've heard from people who seem to know more about railroading than me (not a very high bar to meet, but...) is that superficial similarities aside, tracks + trains as a business is very different from roads + vehicles. The track-train "interface" is much tighter and there are much bigger advantages to vertical integration (same entity owns and operates both tracks and trains). For a simple example, what is the "optimal" penalty that the train operator should pay to the track operator if a train breaks down, causing chaos in the entire network? I.e. how do you structure the incentives for the different companies so that the outcome for the entire system is optimal? For roads this isn't much of a consideration, if a truck breaks down other traffic can pass it.

If so, it would mean the EU & UK approach of separating the track and train companies is very foolish.


> If so, it would mean the EU & UK approach of separating the track and train companies is very foolish.

Yet it works fine for air travel, where the airports, air traffic services and airlines are all separate and charges are transparent.


The dynamics of air transport are very different though. Air transport involves hubs with carriers from all over the world flying into them. Rail lines typically involves one or two companies having access to a given piece of rail infrastructure (generally with natural or state-guaranteed monopolies on particular routes) so vertical integration makes a lot more sense, especially compared with a model where operating companies don't have the flexibility to push forward upgrade timetables they think are commercially necessary, but do get to capture profit windfalls from public investment.


> Just curious, what are they doing in the Netherlands?

The Netherlands has a tracks company (ProRail) and several railroad companies, by far the largest one being National Rail (NS).

That said, that's one of the most criticised points of the Dutch construction, and whenever something's wrong, there's a lot of finger pointing going around (although that seems to have lessened a bit recently). NS and ProRail would like to merge though.


Whether by accident, or design, The Netherlands seem much more able to have transport options that join up. Buses that terminate at the train station, tram routes that serve both, park and ride that serves all. With compatible timetables and ticketing. After reading the piece about Delft cycle routes yesterday, I suspect a reasonable part was by design. I'm sure someone native can point out some major holes, but still from my UK perspective it seems to work very well. :)

UK still happily has bus, train and tram routes that only sort-of join up, sometimes, often by accident. The bus might arrive at the station 5 minutes after the express leaves, etc.

> tracks + trains as a business is very different from roads + vehicles

I'm no rail expert either, but I'll waffle on a bit. :)

It's much closer to air than road - you can't just throw more trains out there, they need slots, separation and compatible timetabling with the others. On a road you can just put out another bus and see which survives, they can even have the same timetable if you like.

The problem I see with UK privatisation is the competition is a myth, but it's been made bloody complicated for the sake of it - for example "what is the "optimal" penalty that the train operator...". A single train operator gets a single regional franchise, yet at least three companies are involved in every route (track, train, buildings). The old train builders, station hotels, and catering had already been sold off.

The old big 4 (GWR, LNER, LMS, SR) owned track, station and train, a train builder, the station hotel and caterer too - if they want to add a new route it wasn't a nightmare of inter-company contracts, or trying to persuade another company to keep the building staffed another hour, or to put new sign on a station wall. No penalties or silliness, just service embarrassment, maybe a government requirement or two. Only when you got to an interchange station did it become multi-company. Course that meant there wasn't much competition - well no kidding. Before the big 4 there was more competition, often from duplicate lines. Also more than one company running trains on lines, though one rail company always owned the infrastructure and rented a slot. So more coexistence than competition.

We missed an opportunity several times to get the main lines electrified - West coast main line was asking for electrification for about 40 years before it got it. Same for expanding to 4 lines so slow and fast can run together more easily, and freight can expand. Beeching destroyed a lot of the joined up nature of our rail, and much of the branch network. We bought in too heavily to the car as the only answer. Thanks to the curse of being early, we may never get double decker trains - that would need countless bridges and tunnels being modified or rebuilt.


Whether by accident, or design, The Netherlands seem much more able to have transport options that join up. Buses that terminate at the train station, tram routes that serve both, park and ride that serves all. With compatible timetables and ticketing.

The timetabling is partly by accident, I suspect -- or rather, it's a consequence of having high-frequency routes. Most inner-city buses and trams have a ride every ten minutes or less, so there's always an option that joins up. The NS (railway) does invest a lot of effort in matching their arrivals and departures with the most-used transfers, and I suspect regional bus services do the same. But I'm not aware of any timetable coordination between different operators.

On the other hand, it's very rare for train stations not to be serviced by at least one other type of public transport, and that's definitely by design. Even inter-city bus routes have their termini at train stations rather than the city centers of the cities they connect.


> The Netherlands seem much more able to have transport options that join up.

The Netherlands is a very small country, almost half the size of Panama, with a mostly dead flat geography. It is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world.


UK is pretty densely populated as countries go. If you consider just England, actually slightly higher density than The Netherlands, though obviously not quite as flat.


i'm getting 395 pop. density for UK, and 488 for the netherlands. nl is also the most densely populated country in the EU. on a world scale, netherlands is 31 out of 254 territories (incl. countries). i'd also add the WW2 devastation that allowed some of the European countries to overhaul huge parts of their infrastructure.


Netherland is a small country, they don't need bullet trains.

The distance from Paris to Marseille is close to 800km, you'd better have a bullet train if you don't want the trip to take a full day.


Netherland is small, but it's not an island. We have high-speed trains to France and Germany, and soon England. The Dutch part of the trip is generally the slowest part, though.


>well if you're being deprived of funds better to keep the train running than the sandwiches fresh //

I'm not sure about this: the sandwiches are an easy daily income; you've got a captive audience, why not make them awesome? In this situation you still have to pay the person making them and selling them, why not make them good?

Can you imagine "I take the train, it has the best sandwiches!". Why can't that be a thing?

>The meals in dining cars managed to stay pretty damn good. //

Presumably because the "fat cats" ate in the dining cars.


Rail subsidies are highly regressive. The rail network primarily connects cities to cities via relatively affluent suburbs. If you live on a council estate and work in a factory, it's highly unlikely that you have the option of commuting by rail. Very few workers with below-average incomes have the need to travel from Manchester to London for a meeting. Rail travel is inherently more expensive than other modes and always will be, due to the massive infrastructure cost. It's not even lower-carbon than bus travel in the vast majority of cases.

Why should taxpayers subsidise a mode of travel that is inherently used primarily by the wealthy?


Rail might not be the mode of choice for day laborers. But on a trip around Europe, via probably twenty different trains, I didn't see a single monacle, glass of fine alcohol, or even a suit. Trains were full of very ordinary people, including children and students... The clientele felt very similar to cattle-class air travel.


> I didn't see a single monacle

Thanks, I just spat coffee up a wall!


> Why should taxpayers subsidise a mode of travel that is inherently used primarily by the wealthy?

Well, the same goes for roads. Some people don't even have a car, and wealthy people move around a lot more in cars.

But it turns out wealthy people do a lot more of a lot of things, especially move around, because they have money to do so.

And were travel cheaper probably more people would do so.

So, taxpayers basically pay for the ability to have a network that allows them to travel a bit.

In some countries low income folks get cheaper tickets. Also high income folk pay a lot more taxes.

All in all, it'd be great to merge the high speed rail and ordinary road bus networks, and just maintain and subsidize that one, and have more socially fair pricing.


The same doesn't go for roads. I might not have a car but my life would be severely impacted if local providers of goods and services including public ones, can't use roads.


Roads that would be clogged with more passenger traffic if there was no mass transit available. Better train infrastructure isn't just good for people who take the train, it's also good for road traffic.


In Austria many people commute to Vienna via train, which as a nice side effect reduces the number of cars in the city.

As an Austrian in Germany who used trains regularily to go back and forth I can assure you that it is not rare to see workers in full clothes with toolboxes and stuff in trains. Most regular people look like office workers, families and you will always spot a few upper class managment people.

The mixture depends entirely on your timing. If you use the train only during the holidays or weekends, you might get a very distorted image of who uses these trains on a day to day basis.

But trains as a mode of transportation for the wealthy? Might be that way in the UK (I wasn’there a lot), but certainly not in the other parts of Europe.

In Germany and Austria you will see a mix of people that sort of represents the society as a whole (in terms of wealth.


Many of those affluent suburbs became wealthy because of the station and rail link to London. The less-affluent suburbs are often those Mr Beeching ripped connection from, by removing most of the branch line network.

In the rest of the country, I've never felt surrounded by wealth on trains. Mostly it just seemed like the same mix of regular people you'd see anywhere.


> Very few workers with below-average incomes have the need to travel from Manchester to London for a meeting

Manchester to London doesn't receive subsidies, it makes a lot of money which is plumbed back into (for example) the south wales valleys lines

South West Rail for all those affulent bankers going into London also makes a profit that's reinvested in say services in Cornwall

> Rail travel is inherently more expensive than other modes and always will be, due to the massive infrastructure cost.

That's not nescersarilly true, I suspect you aren't accounting for externalities like polution, the military cost of oil, etc.


Rail is high-volume, far more so than achievable by bus, and the modal users are the middle class and commuters. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/...

Really this is a "yes and" situation. We should also have decent low-cost buses, which in the UK are only available in London, Edinburgh and a few other places.


Because the alternative to rail is cars. Cars don't scale to the level needed in cities. They also pollute a lot and kill a lot of people in accidents. Everybody benefits from fewer cars on the road.


>Because the alternative to rail is cars. //

Going by air is an alternative to rail for some journeys [eg within UK] too. Edinburgh-London for example.


There are about 2600 seats on 29 planes from Edinburgh to London's 3 airports on Monday -- average of say 100 seats a plane.

There's about 12,600 train seats

How do you propose to fit in another 145 flights a day between the two cities?


Airports in city centers are pretty problematic and I don't think that they can handle the number of commuters that a railway can.


I wasn't contemplating it as an en masse replacement: from a traveller's perspective I consider flying for journeys where rail is an option (because cars are cheaper usually for short-medium, and walking/buses for short journeys).

You're right re city centers, perhaps I gave a bad example - in UK for longer journeys I like the train but flying is superior (for my use-case) usually - cheaper, faster.


At least in London rail let's people avoid higher house prices by having a longer commute. But that expands the commuter belt, and raises prices for everyone else. It would be better if people could live closer to work.

I think they should use subsidy to make shorter local journeys free or very cheap. Include bus travel also. Ramp up the prices on longer journeys. They could also help out regional airlines to take strain of the rail network.


Generally we all agree that flying when you could use the train is a very bad thing.


A new generation of electric planes could change that. And a lot of the cross country fleet is diesel anyway and produces CO2 and other emissions.


Sure, let me know how that works out.


> While walk-on fares have increased above the rate of inflation

Barry Doe covered this in a recent Rail issue.

Inflation in this context is RPI, because that's what rail salaries are based on. Walk on fares are regulated and thus kept relatively cheap (Vrigin off peak returns are 6% higher than they were in 1995, after RPI for example. Service is now nearly twice the speed and twice the frequency). RDG want to get rid of this protection though.

But you're right that advance fares are both cheaper and easier to get.

The biggest winners are season ticket holders - many have risen by less than inflation (Chiltern, c2c, EMT, Great Northern, Sourther, Thameslink, South Western and Virgin)


> It doesn't need to open up the network to competition.

I think this is mandated by the EU. And it could be a good thing. I'm personally fed up to be treated like a thief when I forgot composting my ticket (which happen because there is not gate to access the rails) or when I could not buy it in the first place (some station doesn't have have vending machines).

Also the price lottery for TGV tickets is infuriating (price goes from 14€ to 140€ for the ride I take the most) and the commercial strategy of the SNCF is to offer cheap TGV which lacks any confort to kind of punish you not buying the more expensive option.

But actually I would even be happier if we import all the working staff from Japan and make them the whole thing working smoothly under a join JR-France company.


For english speakers, "composting" here means punching a ticket. I never understood where the word came from, and I'm a native French speaker.


Apparently the meaning doesn't come from the verb but from the italian word : "compositore" (according to wikitionary [1] and the larousse dictionary [2])

(again in [1]) "compositore" from italian is equivalent to "compositeur" in french which can mean "a person that writes music" but can also mean "a typographer or compositor".

[1] : https://fr.wiktionary.org/wiki/composteur

[2] : https://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais/composteur/17...


Funnily enough the word we use for stamping tickets in Italian is vidimare which comes from vidimus (seen) in Latin, so it's actually closer to visa in etymology.


For ESL speakers, "composting" to us means "put in a bin with a bunch of dead vegetation and let it rot". It can also refer to throwing something away in a bin that is destined for a compost pile (for instance, food scraps).

I was wondering why the OP would be treated like a thief for not throwing his ticket away to be composted.


Wow, thanks for that. I can't find a definition in an English dictionary that was able to make sense of that. It appears to have etymology in Old French composte which comes from Latin "composita" or "compositum" which means something like "something put together".

Even crazier I can't figure out how we arrive at the modern meaning of decaying vegetables to make soil...but I can arrive at how we got to "composite" which seems to have different but similar roots.


> Even crazier I can't figure out how we arrive at the modern meaning of decaying vegetables to make soil...

The etymology I see all mentions "composte" as "mixture of leaves, manure, etc., for fertilizing land", which suggests that it started as people using a *composita of manure and plant detritus together to ferment for fertilizer and the word sense shifted from referring to the specific mixture to the general composting process.


Ahh, that makes sense.


Thanks for having filled the "exercice left to the reader" as I didn't know the correct word!


> I think this is mandated by the EU.

Not really, the EU is democratic, and generally there's skeptisism in the EU about a liberal rail market.

The Fourth Railway Package explicity allows tracks and trains to be owned by a single holding company. The main point of the package was things like harmonising safety standards across europe (so if you wanted to run a train from london to warsaw you wouldn't need to get safety certification from UK, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and Poland).

It will mean that a given EU government can't use the rail industry as a way of hiding state aid to people/industries. If SNCF are good, that's fine, they continue. If DB come along and say they can run France's network for half the cost, then DB get the job.

> I'm personally fed up to be treated like a thief when I forgot composting my ticket

That's because you're not traveling with a valid ticket. Try driving off from the petrol station without paying, or boarding a plane without showing a boarding pass.

> Also the price lottery for TGV tickets is infuriating

It's demand led, like planes.

> the commercial strategy of the SNCF is to offer cheap TGV which lacks any confort to kind of punish you not buying the more expensive option.

So buy the more expensive one if you value the comfort.


>That's because you're not travelling with a valid ticket. Try driving off from the petrol station without paying, or boarding a plane without showing a boarding pass.

that's not even remotely close. I don't know exactly how it is in France but in Italy (and I suspect it's similar) I may have a monthly ticket clearly stating the validity FROM-TO, having my name on it and yet still if i don't time stamp it at the start of month i'm treated like a thief because bureaucracy says ALL tickets must be timestamped. WHY? how could i cheat with a named monthly subscription ticked? Ticket controllers not having to fear for their job don't even try to think and treat passengers with respect.

Now that we have a private Operator the situation is a little bit better but still until we have laws that dictate nobody must do any effort to maintain the job it's not gonna be pretty.

Now You may ask Why I don't simply time stamp it at the start of the month. Maybe i'm late and I miss my train But most of the time and in many stations the stamping machines do not work. courtesy of the same guaranteed monopoly Company.


I suppose that government subventions are split as a function of the number of passengers...


Does that monthly ticket has a start date printed on it before you compost it?


Of course it does. it's a monthly ticket valid from first of the month until end of the month. And even for the tickets without a date Why should the passenger be penalised when there are no working stamping machines in the train station? how is that the passenger problem?


> Of course it does

Dunno about France (OP gave no indication he was talking about a period ticket), but in the UK monthly tickets last a month from the time they begin (which is printed on the ticket at time of purchase). Most train tickets I've bought on the continent are undated - if you don't composte them then you could use them time and time again, which would be theft of service.

In the UK we have carnets which must be dated (albeit with a pen rather than a machine) before boarding the train. They give very little discount and users are often accused of fraud.

> Why should the passenger be penalised when there are no working stamping machines in the train station? how is that the passenger problem?

It's the passengers problem as they presumably can't board the train without a valid ticket. I'm not sure how competition or changing ownership would help, what you need are strong laws making the train company liable if it's not there.

Again in the UK we have "penalty fares", which are on the spot "fines" for "honest mistakes". Sadly the same doesn't apply to train companies, when they deny boarding despite a valid ticket, or you get threatened with legal action despite a valid ticket, you have to fight it, but they don't get fined.


> I'm not sure how competition or changing ownership would help

Competition always helps. It would be as simple as putting a stamping machine inside the train like they do on the buses. I mean it doesn't cost anything and the only reason it is not being done is the same reason machines in stations do not work. The train company has a monopoly and they don't care to try offering a decent service.


The JR service comes at a cost. Shinkansen tickets are vastly more expensive than TGV.


Yes it's a bit more expensive but the trains themselves are way more confortable, most of the time on schedule and drive at full operational speed all the time because they rails are made for it. With TGV on the other hand you have a few sections which are standard rails and thus you the train drive at a normal (low) speed...


More comfortable than the TGV? The train I'm most familiar with is the Thalys, the high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris, and I'm not sure if it's more comfortable than other TGVs, but it's always a joy to travel in.

I recently went to London in the Eurostar, and they'd managed to make the train experience feel like a plane. Very disappointing.


Having recently used both the TGV and the Tokaido Shinkansen, I'd say the Hikari line is much more comfortable than any of the TGV trains.

Regarding the Eurostar, it works like that because the UK is not in Schengen. As such, border control needs to happen. Not to mention the potential issues with terrorism. And the Eurostar is net inferior to any of the Shinkansen trains.


Can confirm, I've been on the TGV and also a few bullet trains in Japan - the bullet trains were practically luxurious in terms of comfort and space, and the service was fantastic.

I also found the bullet trains to be great value, especially when compared to the expensive, uncomfortable, over-crowded, slow, dirty, late trains here in the UK.


The border checks absolutely added to the plane feeling of the experience, but Eurostar seats are also significantly more cramped than those of the Thalys.


Err UK rail was famously terrible before "privatisation".

Not that privatisation is the answer, nor that being public was at fault, but I'm not sure rewriting history is helpful.

Looking at UK water companies being privatised so their owners can stuff them full of debt to get around the profit caps is probably a better case study.

Profit percentage caps are silly because the obvious way to make more money is to make the entire service more expensive by wasting money, this increasing turnover, thus increasing the size of that 4%.

Monopolies being privatised doesn't seem super helpful either, but hey, that's the UK for you.


I read in a lot of articles that it is actually more terrible for a lot of tracks after privatisation in the UK.

What happens is that companies focus on the most profitable tracks, so the other ones are not well maintained.

An example: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/05/the-gu...


I'm not sure that article say's it's worse than pre-privatisation, just that it's not great now and they're right, I pay over £400 a month to sit on the floor for a train that turns up when it wants to. It's not exactly amazing.

But, as a counter: https://www.ft.com/content/d192b1b4-458b-11e5-af2f-4d6e0e5ed...

Now indeed, the terrible service in the past was most likely due to underfunding, but recent history suggests we'll consistently vote in a Government that starves national infrastructure then sell it off to it's mates, so it's hard to see public ownership lasting and resulting in success.


Its always easy to pick you some things that are worse. But the UK train system was terrible and getting more terrible constantly year after year with total stagnation of new lines and other advancements.

You can just as easily point to a number of other metrics that 'private' or whatever you want to call it British system has actually improved.

The people dislike of anything to do with privatization ends up people and journalist just looking for the problems. But the problems they find are not actually that much worse then the problems they had before.


And when franchises change the outgoing franchisee just milks it for the last two years or so - which lead to the complete fracking disaster of the thames link.


What you said about the water companies is not correct. They are regulated on the basis of price - the regulator sets a pricing formula for the industry RPI + X (i.e. X is the annual price increase above inflation).

There are no caps on profit.

The reason why companies carry large amounts of debt is that debt finance is much cheaper than equity. Given that a utility has stable cashflows, it makes sense for it to use a high proportion of debt finance.


Fair enough, I defer to somebody who obviously knows more. I admit I likely conflated several industries anyway ( I believe rail is on a 4% cap). However, there still seems to be questions around the debt, divididends, and asking Government for investment.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41152516

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/03/water-...

https://www.ft.com/content/5878de66-9c7d-11e7-8cd4-932067fbf...

Now obviously we live in a country of outrage, and fairly poor reporting, but the reporting does make it seem like we regularly get privatised profits and socialised losses.


Hong Kong's is profitable mostly because it is run as a real estate company. They acquire land before adding a metro station and then lease/sell the valuable land after adding the station.

Why don't other cities do this?


I think all land within city limits should be publicly acquired with eminent domain before zoning and building of utilities. No reason to let the land value increase fall to private landowners when it's all due to build-up of public services. Better use the profits for maintaining the services.


That's roughly the case in Amsterdam. All land is technically owned by the city, and homeowners lease it for 50 years. When the lease will run out is always a detail to pay attention to when buying a home.


That's actually a great way to address this somewhat fairly. I just hope this would be more widespread. Here the city owns large parts and rents the land out with up to 100 year contracts, but lots of the land is also just privately owned.


Leases that short must make getting a mortgage hard.


When the lease is about to run out, it means you need to reserve money for that, meaning the price of the house will be lower. I think you can still use the mortgage to pay for that lease. So overall it doesn't make much difference, it's just an extra thing to pay attention to, or you'll end up with unexpected costs.


If the lease is set to expire in twenty years, can you know in advance how much it will cost to renew, so that you can include it in the mortgage?

If so, then it doesn't really seem to help the city to capture the gains that may have accrued over those years. If not, what happens if the lease now costs much more and you can't afford it? Do you get kicked out of the house?


I think the cost of the lease depends on an estimated value of the house. So if the lease expires soon, you can fairly accurately estimate what it's going to cost. If it expires in 20 years, it depends on what your house is going to be worth in 20 years.

There are also arrangements where you pay this lease every month or every year, rather than paying it off for 50 years at once. If you can't afford to pay the whole thing at once, you can probably take a mortgage to pay for it, but you may also be able to switch to a monthly or yearly payment system.

This estimated value of the house (the WOZ value) is also used for property taxes and you can appeal the estimate if you think it's wrong.

In any case, it ensures that the city benefits to some degree from the rising value of the land.


In the UK, usually you negotiate for the occupier to refresh the lease before concluding the sale. After 50 years, you'll probably be dead so you don't have to worry about lease renewal (in the UK the standard leasehold is 99 years, so you'll definitely be dead by then).

If you were due for a renewal, and you didn't have the funds to pay the fee, you'd remortgage. If you were very wise, you'd take out an insurance policy when you moved in to pay for it.


Aren't leaseholds pretty rare in the UK? I'm in Scotland, but I don't think I've ever come across a leasehold property here.


It effects the value of your estate and you wont get a mortgage on a short lease very easily.


In the UK, this part:

> In the UK, usually you negotiate for the occupier to refresh the lease before concluding the sale

is a requirement your mortgage lender will impose. Yes, it puts a burden of a few hundred pounds of solicitor's fees + lease renewal to get the leasehold reset when your executors/inheritors dispose of the property.


It's also not necessary for a short lease. If you're going to pay every month or every year, a mortgage is pointless. If you want to pay it off for 50 years, that's when you're probably going to need a mortgage.


In the Uk you wont get a mortgage on a short lease


A land value tax would sort this out. Build a new train station (crossrail was a massive subsidy to land owners[0]), land price increases, more is raised in tax, which pays for the infrastructure.

On the other hand, build a new bypass, land prices drop, and nearby land owners get compensation for their inconvenience.

[0] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/18/house-prices...


Because it's not East-Asia. It works in HK, Japan, Taiwan or others countries because a train station increase value of the surroundings but in France a train station is a place you want to avoid, especially at night. In any city of a respectable size this is where you have you have a lot of beggars, thieves etc. trying to extorts you cigarettes and money. It is even worse for women that get everything of that plus sexual harassement (and it's not from native French).


I don't know. Securing a city is not that hard. East Asia is not some crime free utopia. So it boils down to lack of political will.


I was shocked by how bad the metro stations were in Paris at night, I changed somewhere in the central zone and it was a right dive. I've never seen a London tube station, or Manchester metrolink, anywhere near as bad as Paris metro ones.

No harassment, just homeless people pissing on the platforms etc.

Paris is a dive though, give me Berlin, Munich, Rome, Prague, etc any day.


That seems to be a problem that can be fixed with some security guards.


Not really. This kind of low-key theft and coercion are hard to catch in the act. You can criminalize loitering and begging itself, but that's problematic, plus rife for discriminatory abuse. Finally, even if you do catch them, the low amounts in question usually mean they'll spend a few hours at a police station, and then they'll go back.


The sad part seems to be that:

- track maintenance is lacking (at least by journalism investigation reports)

- regional lines have shrunk, causing systemic back pressure on cars (partly fueling the yellow vest protests)

I love the new TGV (regen braking) but it seems that holistically it's not a sure bet for the whole nation:


"SNCF is fiddling with the wrong things. It doesn't need to separate train operations from rail track network maintenance. It doesn't need to open up the network to competition"

I'm guessing this is being imposed on SNCF by national and European government.

In their defence they seem to be doing the right things. They're preparing for competition by lowering their costs etc.

The proposed system of giving each region the power to grant a monopoly seems a bit ill considered though.


>That's what "public" means.

No, that's not what that means. "public" is just the only place a money-losing venture can continue in perpetuity.

It's very easy for governments to have self-sustaining programs. They are still "public" but they bring in enough money to pay for themselves.


Public means it is a service all citizen (aka the public) should benifit from. That doesn’t mean it is free of some sort of fee (see public libraries), but it also means it must be available to everyone (see public school).

A good public train network returns a lot of money indirectly, because it keeps all sorts of people mobile and therefore makes it easier for them to fill free positions. And in some areas (e.g. in the Alps) a good rail service is a huge multiplicator for tourism which means a whole industry profits from a cheap and well working train network.

The most important aspect of a public transport system is that it works well, is affordable and without disruptive changes can be so in 20 years time. The goal should be to reach these targets with efficiency.

I am not convinced that privatized railways offer any benefit for the public — they tend to grab all sorts of public money while closing lines that leave part of the public isolated, because there is not much profit to be made. In practise this can be observed in multiple nations. And public train networks have competition: busses.

In nations where people don’t rely as much on public transport (e.g. the US) it is only natural to come the conclusion that railways should be lead like private companies. People have cars anyways, gas is cheap, there is no real public transport network you need to compete with.


> Public rail is a money-losing venture, in every country (except Hong Kong).

Not in Russia. They had a $2 billion profit in 2017. It's also the third-largest rail company in the world, so yes, it can be done.


Not in Amtrak's Northeast corridor either. If Amtrak was run like a business, it could shut down a number of lines and become a cash-cow. But it decisively not run like a business.


All this profit comes from freight operations. Passenger services are loss making.


No. Their passenger services had around $100 million in profits, according to their 2017 report.

Much lower margins, of course, but still profitable.


How much of that is profit from industrial logistics (read moving oil), and which part of that are revenues from passengers?


"It doesn't need to separate train operations from rail track network maintenance. It doesn't need to open up the network to competition."

This certainly didn't help in the UK. It's been a shameful saga with multiple failures and no clear rationale. The theory was: privatisation -> ??? -> uber efficiency. Ignoring the fact that the economic theory which usually fills in the ??? requires free entry and exit into the market. That doesn't exist in the case of natural monopolies like rail.


Very few people don't take rail for the fun of it.

People take rail to go somewhere, therefore the market is transport.

The options for say Glasgow to London are

Drive Coach (2 operators (national express, megabus) Fly (2 operators I think) Train (2 operators)

That's 7 different options, each has pros and cons


Assuming the railway itself is public and shared, as in this case, how is rail a natural monopoly?


A key reason is that off-peak services are often subsidised by on-peak services, so to economically provide a good all-day service the whole thing needs to be provided by the same operator.


No reason to require a single operator, you just need a shared "pot" to move money around. On-peak trains pay into the pot, off-peak trains get money from it.


I don't think SNCF have any choice about separating train operations from rail track network maintenance and opening the network up to competition. It's an EU requirement, part of the fourth railway package. That's part of the reason there was talk of the UK not being able to renationalise their railways if we didn't leave the EU - it's increasingly requiring all states to structure their railways more like the UK system (because that worked so great for us!)


>That's part of the reason there was talk of the UK not being able to renationalise their railways //

I thought we did effectively renationalise a portion of the network on the East Coast, and it was better [for users] and profitable in some sense [for the exchequer]?

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/oct/26/east-coast-m...

We have a lose-lose system in the UK AFAICT, we have a private system, and we subsidise it from taxation. So private companies get paid dividends, that they didn't earn, from tax money and we still get a fragmented and under-invested system.


> profitable in some sense

East coast made £100m a year for the exchequer Stagecoach promised £400m for the exchequer

Clearly the latter is better for the exchequer, it means more subsidy can be spent on other areas of the network.

The problem is that Grayling let stagecoach off their promises, undermining the whole point of privatization.


I wanted to travel by rail from Zurich to Paris earlier this year, and as it happens, ended up in Zurich when SNCF was on strike. So I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get back in time and had to cancel the trip. From what I hear this happens relatively frequently there. A train which you're not sure if it runs our not on any given day has somewhat limited utility IMO.


> It doesn't need to open up the network to competition.

What about Japan? Aren't they running the best rail network in the world with 0 subsidies?


I think New York needs to:

1. Cut costs. Lay off workers where possible. Cut wages and salaries across the board.

2. Increase taxes. There just isn't enough money. I've seen a lot of people jump the turnstile.

I think we can't emulate Japan's model in the US. Japan is very homogeneous from what I can tell. We are decidedly not. Any attempt to strict enforcement will lead to hiring people who are attracted to such jobs and think it is their duty to rid society of "scum".


SBB in Switzerland is also profitable


And they have nice high speed trains too. And reasonable prices for residents. It runs like a (Swiss) clockwork.


> cut the number of excessive public sector workers

I remind you, that we're talking about France here, where firing people is very, very hard. And we're talking public sector here, which would be a huge offense there. Protests would be massive.


Why is this getting down voted? Did I say something wrong? Not saying I don't agree with what the author suggested.


> Public rail is a money-losing venture, in every country (except Hong Kong). That's what "public" means. But it's important to have

Why ? I wish connectivity to airports here in India would improve and railways would just die


Why important? Because public rail makes it possible to connect city centers. Airports are biiiiiiig, noisy, airplanes pollute a lot, and take off and landing is slow. Sure, planes are faster than trains, but they are a lot less efficient.

Yes, it's hard to manage, yes it needs "roads" (tracks), whereas planes have the air, but planes are very much a luxury.


For many connections that are less than 500km or so apart, a train is faster than a plane. A good rail network also connects smaller towns that don't have an airport. It can also be used to transport goods. All these uses would have to be replaced by cars and trucks if you'd only focus on planes, that's not very good for the environment.


Also, a 4 hour travel door-to-door on a plane means:

* Half an hour to go to the airport

* Half an hour passing security and waiting for boarding

* 20 minutes between boarding and stable flight when you can start working on your laptop

* One hour and 40 minutes when you can work cramped in a noisy environment with terrible air quality

* 15 minutes descent and landing

* 15 minutes deboarding and getting out of the airport

* Half an hour to get where you need to be

Same trip by train:

* Half an hour till you are on the train

* 3 hours working comfortably in a usually bigger space with ground level air pressure and very little noise

* Half an hour to get where you need to be.

Travel in reasonably modern trains is by far the best kind of business travel you can have today, IMO.


> Half an hour passing security and waiting for boarding

Only 30 minutes sounds optimistic. You also didn't count the time to recover luggage. I've seen people bringing huge suitcases on high speed trains. They couldn't take them in cabin on a flight. Planes are good past the 2 hours flight time IMHO, or across countries where there are no interconnected high speed networks (I'm writing this with Europe in mind.)


My experience with heavy luggage on the French TVG was positive and so efficient Il Duce would be jealous.

My ticket told me where to stand on the platform. When the train pulled to a precise location, I did not have to move any distance. One door for boarding, one for deboarding, passengers did not bump or block each other. Luggage storage located immediately inside train, pass a sliding door to my assigned seat.

The train seemed to stop for less than a minute, we were moving before I took my seat.

No security in boarding station (Morliax), a little over 3 hrs to Paris, 450km as the crow flies.

Perhaps our French colleagues could chime in and let us know if this is a typical experience.

Baggage security in France and other EU countries is quite efficient, not everyone carries bags.


I used to live a 7 minute taxi from Manchester airport. I would usually aim to arrive 30 minutes before wheelsup. It it took longer than 5 minutes from taxi to boarding it was unusual.

In the rare occasions I checked luggage I'd arrive about t-45 and have a beer in the lounge.

Never missed a flight. To get to west london it was far faster than the train and tube, although most of the time I was changing at Heathrow onto a longer distance flight.


And your children will hate you for it.

(i.e. the climate.)


With fast trains, even >500km is better than airplanes, since you go from city center to city center and don't have to be at the airport in advance.

In Italy, the Milan-Rome (570km, 2.5/3 hours) fast trains have been making a killing for years.


Sure, but the situation - bar a few "main" cities is far from being "good".

The maps on the ESPON project are interesting in this regard:

http://mapfinder.espon.eu/?page_id=31&category-name=115&proj...

Though I seem not being able to find a more recent version of this "classic" anamorphic (deformed) map (I find these the easier way to visualize the abnormalities in connections):

https://calomelano.it/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/05_populati...


I believe the Hong Kong metro owns and leases the land on top of its stations.


Also, density. Amtrak [and other big country networks] also has money making routes, but that money is nothing when it comes the losses that need to be offset on the other routes.


Quote:

    That doesn’t necessarily mean an end to SNCF’s dominance of 
    high-speed rail. As things stand, most TGV lines don’t turn 
    a profit but are made feasible by subsidies, paid by a 
    state that clearly sees the economic advantages of an 
    extensive high-speed network. Competitors would either need 
    to make substantial savings on operational costs, or limit 
    themselves to the most lucrative connections, such as the 
    profit-making Paris to Lyon route.
This sounds like a perfect way to have private operators take the profit from the cake routes and leave the subsidized routes for the state. Handing over monopolies on a region by region basis doesn't seem like it change much if anything.


That's why it's a monopoly. The region can tell companies "who can make these lines (some profitable, some less) for the lowest subsidies, while fulfilling these other requirements?" Then the private companies compete, one wins and has to serve cake routes as well as empty ones, because the contract with the region makes them do it.

Everyone wants your region? Great, you can lower the subsidies, or even tax the company. No one wants it? Ask for more money from the state, or consider eliminating some useless routes.

Then the monopoly part makes it easy to calculate the profitability of the package and get concrete offers.


But you could then just go, give the same plan to different competing teams in the public railway network and you will get a similar effect. Because over all the private companies will also have to carry the cost of a lost competition to their customers.

I just don’t think it is good to give public infrastructure into the hands of any entity that has to generate profit. It is not a good idea for trains (look at the German Bahn where it now turns out they neglected infrastructure for years just to look profitable), it is not a good idea for water and not for cellular networks or internet (the German market is again a good example).

If you have a monopolist it will also leverage the fact that they are the only one. They essentially will blackmail you by strategic problems that will fall back onto you as the responsible governing body. They will put lobbyists into every possible spot and suddenly you live in a world where the only people who understand railways are on the monopolists payroll and a politician should decide about a topic they have no idea about.

And if put up too high requirements, everybody loses. In Germany the frequencies for 3G were auctioned for way to much money. How did the mobile networks compensate that loss? By essentially halting any infrastructure investment and changing the requirement from “has to reach 99% of the area” to “has to reach 99% of the households”.

The effects: broken train infrastructure with 1 in 5 trains arriving late, the worst mobile network of Europe, the slowest internet of Europe.

I am convinced a public train, mobile and internet infrastructure would be expensive — but I might get reception 10km outside of Berlin — I might be able to catch that next train and I might be able to get fibre in the middle of the German capital.


Alternative, the private companies spend their resources lobbying politicians to remove the unprofitable requirements, something that is relatively easier than making them profitable, and the whole system collapses.


While high-speed trains are struggling to gain a foothold in some parts of the world (looking at you, California), France’s superfast rail services are looking at a very active, more competitive future.

SNCF’s new trains should help it meet the challenge posed by new competitors. Simply called the TGV 2020, these trains offer some clear improvements, as illustrated in the video above. For a start, the train’s shorter engine (59 feet instead of the current 72) opens up as much as 20 percent more space for passengers (740, as opposed to the current 556), while also delivering a high maximum speed of 220 miles per hour.

It's great how this publication wants to inspire the US to learn from the rest of the world. What if they started by using the metric system, maybe putting furlongs and leagues in a tool tip?


As a writer, one writes for one's audience. It's a US publication, targeting mainly US readers. Using metric units would be less understandable.

It's not like the reason high speed rail doesn't work in the US is because we talk about speed in miles per hour.


Its part of the US attitude of ignoring modern engineering


Your Intel chips were probably specced out in mils (milli-inches). All the screws are various fractions of an inch. A surprising amount of "modern engineering" uses imperial still.

Science at least is all metric.


Actually, in most of the world we use pretty much just metric screws. It’s always bloody annoying to occasionally have to integrate some piece of equipment that we have to specially get in UNC or other imperial screws for.

As for Intel chips, while wafers used to be specified in inches, I beleive they are generally fabricated on 300mm diameter wafers now. All the die sizes I’ve seen doing some quick research appear to be in millimeters (could possibly be approximations of values in mils) but I doubt either millimeters or mils would be useful for actually laying out ASICs - I expect they are mostly using microns and/or nanometers.

PCB design is still mostly in mils in the US, but I’ve heard from colleagues who moved from there of some big companies starting to switch since it’s more convienent for working with China etc. to just use metric.


Yep, all of the hobby electronics stuff I have worked with has been M3 and M4 screws. Really convenient


Yeah, it's a sad situation but one we should be working together to remedy. We all have to get behind and push, though -- it can't be an individual effort.


I would argue that most of modern engineering originates in USA, with possible exception of automotive industry :)


Much of it has found a home here but it definitely didn't all originate here.


US automakers have pretty much switched over to metric fasteners for years. My 15-year-old Ford is all metric. They sell their cars all over the world.


Getting downvoted for metric advocacy.

Sad.


Worth remembering that France hasn't fared very well in rail competition lately: the French-Government-controlled Eurostar chose the Velaro train sets from German Siemens to replace the existing TGV-derived train sets.

It sparked a national outrage (because a company controlled by the French government should, in their opinion, only buy French) and a lawsuit from Alston (who makes the TGV).


If I were French and our rolling stock were competitive, I’d be upset if the government gave a leg up to the competition given the strong unions and jobs the TGV provides. It may save a buck or two but it also is a blow against local producers.


EU competition rules prohibit preferential treatment of domestic businesses in state procurement - any public contract worth more than €5.5m must be open to fair competition from firms in all EU member states. Alongside the State Aid rules, this is one of the most important principles in maintaining the fair operation of the Single Market and preventing internal protectionism.

https://europa.eu/youreurope/business/selling-in-eu/public-c...

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/overview/index_en....


> and preventing internal protectionism

Which is the key phrase. The EU is perfectly fine with protectionism so long as it is non-EU countries who are being excluded. For example, the cap of foreign ownership of EU airlines at 49% has no basis other than protecting local companies.


good


You're essentially advocating for tariffs and "buy local" requirements.

Not only they are bad for the economy, they're also mostly illegal in the EU.

> If I were French and our rolling stock were competitive

Well, it just wasn't as competitive as the German one.


It’s from your taxes (unless the Germans are donating from their coffers), so yeah you should have a local preference if it’s competitive (near as good or better). It adds to local economy and also staves off monopolization of producers.


Nope, it is anti-competitive and bad for the economy, as it creates trade barriers and stifles innovation, as well as using your taxes badly.

It essentially accounts to government subsidies for a certain company.

And that's why it is illegal in the EU.


If we take this to it’s logical extreme we can see how absurd it is.

Why stop at the EU?

If Tau Cetians can produce trains cheap we ought to buy trains from Tau Ceti.

Never mind that it puts the locals out of a job, diminishes local pride in locally manufactured goods, and what do the Tau Cetians care if the trains are unreliable and in comfortable.

Economics doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and it doesn’t matter if my opinion is economically factually incorrect: the National morale does matter.

But, if you hold competition above all else, then we have an ideological mismatch, and no amount of fact or opinion sharing is likely to help.


Protectionism is usually an inferior policy option that makes everyone poorer. It amounts to a state subsidy of uncompetitive industries, redirecting resources away from other, more productive parts of the domestic economy.

Investing in local industry is perfectly wise. A country that has a skilled workforce, good infrastructure and efficient capital flows is likely to be highly competitive on an international level. Propping up industries just because it's politically easy is the first step down a very slippery slope.

Alstom is comfortably profitable and doesn't need propping up. What's more, it is substantially reliant on export contracts that could be severely jeopardised in a culture of protectionism. The multi-billion dollar contracts it has to provide trains to India, South Africa and the US are all under threat if those countries decide "why should we give all this money to a French company when we could build these trains ourselves?".

Protectionism destroyed the British national morale in the 1970s. The country was weighed down with an unsustainable burden of uncompetitive industries, propped up by the public purse because it was too politically painful to allow them to decline. The resulting swing to Thatcherism resulted in a swift and brutal end to those industries - rather than a managed decline, they were simply culled off, with utterly traumatic effects on a generation of workers who weren't prepared for it.

National morale based on an economic sleight-of-hand is a poor substitute for national morale based on industries that are genuinely capable of taking on the world and winning.


That’s fair.

And, if we take a global / universal perspective it makes sense to optimise production where it’s most economical.

I guess my wider point is: we ignore nationalistic sentiment to our own detriment, as evidenced by Brexit. We probably ought to consider there is a spectrum rather than an either/or.


> we ignore nationalistic sentiment to our own detriment, as evidenced by Brexit.

What do you mean by this? Could you explain this a bit please?


I'm not the op so I'll pass on addressing the question directly. An earlier comment gave a robust criticism of protectionist policies. In general I'm inclined to agree. But I'd like to draw attention to potentially negative impact to society if things are not managed properly. And really a lot of it comes to trade offs. It might be more efficient to manufacture certain goods elsewhere but it is undesirable to see local industries collapse without alternative employment for the people concerned. I think that in some ways it is better to have a local relatively inefficient sector that keeps people employed. As an example I'm told that of late the French economy has been operating significantly more efficiently than the UK. But conversely unemployment in the UK is at record lows. The suggestion being that it takes more people to produce a unit of work as compared to France. I'd rather have it this way. The thing is that being a steel worker, a builder, machine operator in a car factory is about more than earning a living. As a result when a local industry is dismantled people lose a lot more than their paychecks. This is not to say that local industries should be protected at all costs but that perhaps thee could be a way to gradually re-train the workforce ahead of time.


I mean, if the thing is that we'd get a common market with the Tau Ceti and get to trade with their entire market in exchange it may well work out in favour of all of us due to comparative advantage etc. etc.


> it doesn’t matter if my opinion is economically factually incorrect: the National morale does matter.

I don't even know how to reply to that. Not only you're completely wrong, but you're a nationalist who would sink your country for "national pride".

Kinda like North Korea.


Is there something fundamentally problematic with me want a say in how my tax dollars are spent, and that I would rather the majority go to my fellow citizens so that I have to support fewer of them with welfare?


No, you can want it as much as you want.

Won't make it good, but you're still free to want.


What about China? Do you see China buying German trains?


Actually, yes, the Velaro was exported to China, then built there too.


So you’re saying a state like Venezuela should always keep being a raw materials exporter and an importer of goods with added value because jumpstarting or maintaining an industry is bad for global free trade?


What does Venezuela has to do with the EU?


I’ve seen photos of Earth from space; I didn’t see any borders.

The EU is an arbitrary distinction.


Cool story. Irrelevant, but a cool story.


Economics basics. Support your own industry to maintain a viable industry. Why should India or Australia buy French rolling stock if they themselves won’t deploy it? At that point, close shop.


Argentina supported its domestic auto industry for over 30 years and succeeded in nothing but wasting a ton of money and inconveniencing everyone who wanted a decent car. Import substitution is a great way to pay off your political allies but it’s terroble for all the people who have to pay higher prices for lower quality goods as a result.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Import_substitution_industrial...


Bad for the EU economy, but not necessarily bad for the French economy, which is what the French government should primarily be concerned with. If a German train costs 100 units, and an equivalent French train costs 110 units, but buying the French train gives 40 units to your neighbors and coworkers, why shouldn't the French government buy the French train?


They would. Then the German government would do the same for Siemens trains. Then the only thing both sides have gained are more expensive trains. That's why EU rules forbid this.


I will explain something to above comment: if you re the only one putting this rule. you are the looser. welcome to europe.


> Not only they are bad for the economy, they're also mostly illegal in the EU.

I wish we would stop with this meme, you should ask what they think in the UK of their private trains, I would prefer to keep the French train monopoly, at least it's cheap and it works.


> I would prefer to keep the French train monopoly, at least it's cheap and it works.

Sure you might prefer, but your personal preference doesn't change the fact that protectionism is bad in the long term, and illegal in the EU.


> the fact that protectionism is bad in the long term

It all depends, some industries are just not working privately, the privatization of electricity in France was also a failure for example. The privatization of the post system was also a failure but it matters less since the postal system is less important nowadays.

For the trains, the core issue here is that the network has a value has a whole, if you start to remove the unprofitable parts, it reduces the value of it as a whole. It would be like having only highways, it would not be useful even if it's where you have the most traffic.

> and illegal in the EU.

Well, then you understand why some people become anti-EU when their public service fails and politicians tell them it's perfectly normal and because of some EU policy.


> It all depends, some industries are just not working privately, the privatization of electricity in France was also a failure for example. The privatization of the post system was also a failure but it matters less since the postal system is less important nowadays.

That doesn't have anything to do with protectionism. Are you confusing protectionism with state-owned companies?

> For the trains, the core issue here is that the network has a value has a whole

I'm talking about train sets, not rail networks.

Rail networks in the EU are becoming open as well (which is the point of the article, in case you didn't read it), so SNCF is having, due to competition, to buy more efficient train sets to be able to compete with potential new entrants.

Which is good for society.


> That doesn't have anything to do with protectionism. Are you confusing protectionism with state-owned companies?

No I don't, I'm going to explain how the public train service works, it works by subsidising the unprofitable parts with the profitable parts. Which private train company would like to take an unprofitable train line? If you can find one, good luck.

> Rail networks in the EU are becoming open as well (which is the point of the article, in case you didn't read it), so SNCF is having, due to competition, to buy more efficient train sets to be able to compete with potential new entrants.

Since then the SNCF closed a lot of local train stations, reducing the attractivity of the train in France and threatening the train system as a whole, the same policies are producing the same consequences, I wish people would learn from the mistakes of the past one day.


SNCF has been closing local/rural train stations? The exact same thing has been happening in Germany for decades.

It's just bad federal policy, both in terms of allocation of funds for transportation as well as in terms of how they lead these publically owned train operators. And it's even possible to argue it's fine (I don't think it is), which is why it happened in the first place. Also: cars.

France, if anything, has always been even more enamored with fast trains to the detriment of anything else - iirc the TGV has a much more exclusive network than the ICE. That's money not spent on rural networks.

Anyway, I think the EU has very little to do with it. I've been following the debate for a long time and it's basically never come up.


Yep, France's TGV serves the same purpose as the original railroads in France: exerting control from Paris over the provinces. It is a centralization mechanism built for the Parisian elites.


Eurostar trains are less comfortable than TGV trains, though.


Eurostar trains include both TGV and Siemens Velaro rolling stock.


Do they? Well, in any case the seats of the train we were in were more cramped than I'm used to from any kind of train, including what I remember from TGV and ICE trains, though I admit I haven't experienced those as recently as the Thalys.

Is it possible they crammed more seats into the same carriages?


> Do they?

Yes, they do. The old Eurostars (e300) are the Alstom TGV TMST, and the new ones (e320) are the Siemens Velaro.

The e320 have an interior configuration very similar to the ICE-3s in Germany, although I believe that the seat pitch in the Eurostar is shorter than in the ICE.

The same is true for the e300s: they have the same disgusting, sweat-infused seats of the TGVs :)


"lately"?

You are reporting something that was announced in 2010.

It should now be put into the context of the French and German governments' wish to merge Alstom with Siemens.

'Lately' (2018), Alstom signed a deal to sell TGVs to Morocco.


In the railroad world, 10 years ago is lately.

Different industries run on different timescales, you know...


The author mentions the similarity between the name InOui and "ennui" (boredom), but seem to ignore that "inouï" is an actual word that means unprecedented/incredible/unheard-of.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/inou%C3%AF


Yeah -- I'm French and I had never realized that "inoui" was somewhat close to "ennui". In French pronunciation the two first vowels are really different ("ennui" in French starts with a nasal 'a' sound which doesn't resemble an 'i' at all, to French ears at least).

Another point missed by the article is that in French "ennui" usually doesn't have the philosophical undertones that it has in English. Outside of a philosophical context, in French "ennui" (as a feeling) just means "boredom" and that's it. In everyday French you also use "ennui" to mean an annoyance or trouble, i.e., "avoir des ennuis" means "run into trouble", or "l'ennui c'est que ..." means "the problem is that..."


> In French pronunciation the two first vowels are really different ("ennui" in French starts with a nasal 'a' sound which doesn't resemble an 'i' at all, to French ears at least).

Yeah, I was confused when I tried to understand the connection they were trying to make.

> Another point missed by the article is that in French "ennui" usually doesn't have the philosophical undertones that it has in English.

Fatty liver is a disease, foie gras is a delicacy. ;- )


At my D&D table we pronounced "Coup de grâce" as someone french might pronounce "Coup de gras" for years the latter of which translates to something along the lines of "Blow of fat (or grease)" (rather than "Blow of mercy")

[edit]

For non-francophones, the correct pronunciation is roughly "Koo day grass" and we were saying "Koo day grah"


Hmm, more like "Koo de grass", where "e" is pronounced as in "err" (hesitation): listen to https://translate.google.com/#view=home&op=translate&sl=fr&t...


But we could say “fatted liver” and that would work, but of course food sophisticates need a more sophisticated term for their food to taste better.


Side note: grammatically "fattened liver" should be preferred over "fatted liver".


For the fattening of animals intended as food it’s typically accepted grammar to use “fatted” as in a “fatted pig”.

Same as “datums” is correct in some contexts.


> it’s typically accepted grammar to use “fatted” as in a “fatted pig”

no it ain't, it's extremely out-of-mode


Really though, fatted is the word; and in this context, it is the more direct translation of gras.


literal translations are inhuman. write what your audience will understand, not what the isomorphic pair based on linguistic common ancestor is

unless being right is more important than communicating effectively


Thinking "ennui" and "inouï" sound similar is a bit like a non-native English speaker finding it hard to distinguish between "bottom" and "button". The vowels may sound similar to outsiders, but are completely different to French ears.

(I'm not French, but I speak the language well enough to feel confident making assertions like this about what things sound like to French people).


The vowels don't even sound similar to my anglophone but French-familiar ears.


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