Mobility is a critical public service, and at SNCF we see it as one solution to current social and economic challenges. Which is why we’re innovating to offer customized solutions for our least trafficked lines—including areas with no rail service at all.
To round out our existing TER offer, we’re developing new solutions with transport capacities tailored to the needs of each area. By combining innovative light and very light trains with public and shared mobility offers, we’re expanding the reach of classic rail and delivering local service to everyone, even in small communities.
Creative solutions for rural areas
Trains can meet society’s mobility needs and fight global warming at the same time—which is why France is making rail the backbone of day-to-day transport. But to succeed, it must be a viable alternative to privately owned cars, reaching into every corner of France and delivering solutions that meet the mobility needs of major cities, small rural communities, and everything in between.
To give travellers an alternative to cars in low-density areas, we’re currently testing 4 key projects:
- a new approach to classic rail that can revitalize small lines by delivering more services at controlled costs
- new rail-based mobility solutions that move beyond conventional trains to bring new life to lines with the lowest traffic and limited growth potential
- a driverless public mobility system that converts rail land into road transport platforms
- new concepts for public and shared mobility in rural areas that connect to rail
Light trains for small lines
Some of the TER regional trains now running on small local lines are outsized—too big for the number of passengers served, and too expensive to operate and maintain.
In response, we’re working with our partners to develop light trains that are a better fit for small lines. This new concept includes an electric power system and an onboard battery solution to store energy and reduce CO2 emissions. Developed under our Tech4Rail programme,1 the light train project covers both rolling stock and the infrastructure it runs on. The word “light” was carefully chosen. We want to reduce track wear with a railcar2 that weighs less than a conventional TER, and use digital technology to lighten the burdens of traffic management, while meeting stringent safety standards. Light trains will also shrink costs for operation and maintenance.
In short, these trains can cut costs and CO2 emissions while delivering high-level service, comfort and on-time performance. This will enable French regional governments, which serve as their own transport organizing authorities, to protect the future of small rail lines and offer more mobility options to local communities.
First tests of the light train concept are set to begin in 2024.
Train Léger innovant, le train qui fait bouger les lignes
Very light trains for the smallest lines
To supplement our classic rail service, we’re exploring innovative concepts that would offer rail solutions for lines with little or no existing service.
Our Tech4Mobility3 programme includes very light train projects exploring 2 new systems: Draisy and Flexy. Both aim to adapt automotive technologies and solutions to the world of rail and offer new, lower-capacity rolling stock to complement today’s TERs and tomorrow’s light trains.
Draisy is designed for low-traffic lines—or line sections—around 100 km long. This small, modular train will seat 30 passengers and carry up to 80, in keeping with the needs of the smallest lines. In addition to having less carrying capacity than a classic TER, Draisy will offer flexible, high-quality service, including on-demand stops.
We’re also bringing innovation into the design process for these railcars2. New technologies and materials from the automotive sector will help reduce Draisy’s weight. And like light trains, this very light option will be easier on the track, reducing maintenance costs.
With its electric power system and battery-based onboard energy storage, Draisy will also shrink the rail sector’s environmental footprint.
We expect to run trials on a regional test line sometime in 2025.
Draisy can carry up to 80 passengers
DRAISY, le train très léger pour (re)découvrir les petites lignes
Our ultra-light Flexy shuttle, which can travel on both road and rails, is designed primarily to operate on small, 10 km-30 km lines that are already closed and have too little traffic potential to justify service by rail alone.
To pick up passengers, Flexy can simply leave the rail network and run on local roads. Thanks to this hybrid approach, it will provide first- and last-kilometre service in villages and residential areas with rail lines nearby.
Experiments on a regional test line are slated for sometime in 2024.
Flexy will run on both road and rail.
FLEXY, la navette rail-route pour redynamiser les petites lignes
Repurposing rail lines for driverless public transport
Under our Tech4Mobility3 programme, we’re testing autonomous systems for local mobility. This concept calls for converting disused rail lines into smart, connected roads that can accommodate driverless buses, coaches, minibuses and 9-passenger vehicles.
In November 2020, we created PIOMA, an outdoor test platform designed to develop autonomous mobility solutions. Built in partnership with Colas, a civil engineering specialist, PIOMA is a stretch of road on the former Nantes-Doulon-Carquefou rail line, south of Brittany. Originally 500 m long, the platform has already expanded to 2 km.
PIOMA is an experimental space unlike any other in France, where researchers can test the components of tomorrow’s driverless public bus and shuttle systems. Financed by ADEME4 and carried out with Stellantis (formerly PSA Group), the PIOMA test programme is designed to increase the safety and overall performance of tomorrow’s public transport. Use cases include continuous localization, pedestrian crossings, negotiating road intersections, operating on bridges and in forests, and sharing the road with other vehicles at 50 km/h.
Un laboratoire à ciel ouvert
Shared vehicle with driver for local errands
To make day-to-day journeys easier even in the most lightly populated areas—and limit the use of privately owned cars—we created Ma Course SNCF. Since February 2021, we’ve trialled this shared-vehicle-with-driver service in 5 small towns near Le Mans.
Launched as part of our Tech4Mobility3 programme, this on-demand mobility solution creates a vital link between the rail system and rural communities. Users can book Ma Course SNCF 1 month to 30 minutes in advance for 5 kinds of journeys: getting to the railway station; running errands or arranging delivery of small parcels; seeing a healthcare provider; going to nearby cultural and sporting venues; or simply travelling door to door.
A year-long experiment serving some 15,000 residents in a 100-sq km area
1 The Tech4Rail programme is SNCF Group’s rail innovation accelerator.
2 A railcar is a self-propelled coach powered by an engine.
3 The Tech4Mobility programme is SNCF Group’s innovation accelerator for new mobilities.
4 ADEME is a state-owned enterprise dedicated to the ecological transition. It operates under the authority of France’s Ministry of the Ecological Transition and Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.