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Rail market liberalization

In the 2000s, rail markets for freight and international passenger travel opened up to competition, and now regional and long-distance passenger rail (high-speed service and Intercités) are gradually following suit. That’s a major opportunity for SNCF, because our rail expertise is unmatched anywhere in Europe.

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A guide to rail market liberalization in France

Market segments

Three segments of the rail market are affected by liberalization:

  • high-speed, long-distance lines
  • Trains d’Équilibre du Territoire (TET), short- and medium-distance lines supporting economic development in France’s regions, operated by SNCF with the French State acting as organizing authority
  • Transport Express Régional (TER) short-distance regional trains, governed by contracts awarded by the regions as Mobility Organizing Authorities (MOAs)

Timeline

The French rail market is opening to competition on a clearly defined calendar.

  • Since December 2019, the organizing authorities (the French State and regions) have had the option of putting contracts out to bid.
  • Effective December 2020, high-speed lines will go on an open-access footing unless they are governed by a regional contract.
  • Effective December 2023, the organizing authorities (the French State and regions) will be required to put their contracts out to bid.

Contracts

Liberalization will affect two different types of contract:

  • high-speed service, which may be provided by multiple operators
  • public contracts, under which the organizing authorities select one operator for all or part of their network

Liberalization timeline

Liberalization timeline

The image shows a colour-coded timeline running from left to right, illustrating the liberalization timeline for each of three markets.
The dates for each year, from 2018 to 2027, appear in orange blocks running left to right at the top of the image.

A column on the left indicates the separate timelines for the three affected markets: high-speed (TGV) service; TET short- and medium-distance service supporting economic development in France’s regions; and TER regional express trains.

For high-speed TGVs, SNCF’s monopoly (dark grey box) will end in 2020, when open-access competition (blue box) is authorized.

For TET economic development trains, the monopoly (dark grey box) ended in 2019. From 2020 to 2023, the State may put contracts out to bid or award lines to SNCF, but starting in 2024 the organizing authorities must put their contracts out to bid, except in special cases.

For TER regional trains, the monopoly (dark grey box) ended in 2019. From 2020 to 2023, the regions may put contracts out to bid or award lines to SNCF (light grey box). Starting in 2024, the regions must put their contracts out to bid, except in special cases.

Countdown to competition in 9 key dates

  1. 15 March 2003

    15 March 2003

    International freight rail is liberalized

    Trans-European rail freight opens up to every company in the European Union.

  2. 13 June 2005

    13 June 2005

    Market opens to private freight operators

    The first private freight train runs on the French network.

  3. 31 March 2006

    31 March 2006

    Rail freight opens to competition within the EU

    Domestic rail freight markets open completely to competition throughout the European Union.

  4. 8 December 2009

    8 December 2009

    Structure and regulation

    A new law defines and regulates the structure of rail transport, and the French State creates Araf (Autorité de régulation des activités ferroviaires), a new regulator tasked with independently monitoring the rail industry to ensure free competition.

  5. 13 December 2009

    13 December 2009

    Passenger transport is liberalized

    International passenger transport opens up to competition.

New contract opportunities by segment

High-speed lines

Any operator may be authorized to offer high-speed service anywhere in France, but especially on the most profitable corridors, such as Paris–Lyon, Paris–Lille, Lyon–Marseille, et Paris–Bordeaux.

Trains d’Équilibre du Territoire (TET)

TET lines—the short- and medium-distance service supporting regional economic development in France—are currently operated by Intercités under a contract with the French State, which acts as organizing authority. The State has already called for bids on the Nantes-Bordeaux and Nantes-Lyon lines, with operation to begin in 2022. The eight other lines must be upgraded before any call for tenders is issued.

Regional express trains (TER)

These lines are currently operated by TER under contract with French regional governments, which act as the mobility organizing authorities.

Five regions have already issued calls for tenders:

  • Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (South Eastern France)
  • Hauts-de-France (Northern France)
  • Grand Est (Eastern Central France)
  • Pays-de-la-Loire (Loire Valley)
  • Paris Region

What’s new for you

Now that passenger rail transport is open to competition, new rail companies can offer trains on lines previously reserved for national operators. This already applies in other countries. For example, trains operated by our Keolis subsidiary now stop in German and English railway stations. 

SNCF in Europe

SNCF’s rail experience is unmatched anywhere in Europe. We operate Eurostar and Thalys in the UK, Belgium and The Netherlands, Lyria in Switzerland, Alleo in Germany, and Elipsos in Spain. And we’ve only just begun.

1 In 2015, Araf’s authority expanded to include interurban coaches and motorways operated under concession contracts. and it became a multimodal transport regulator under the name Arafer (Autorité de régulation des activités ferroviaires et routières, or Regulatory Authority for Railway and Road Activities). In October 2019, Arafer’s regulatory power expanded to include airport fees, and it was renamed as the Transport Regulatory Authority (Autorité de régulation des transports, or ART).