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put Europe’s
longest train
to the test

On Saturday, 18 January 2014, SNCF and RFF tested Europe’s first 1,476-meter train—a technical feat achieved with the help of 16 partners. Aim: boost rail freight’s competitive edge.

Project Marathon
scores a success

On 18 January, SNCF and RFF teamed up with 16 partners for a European first: the test run of a 1,467-meter train from Sibelin, near Lyon, to Nîmes.

The experiment was part of Europe’s Project Marathon, with the record length designed to test the technical feasibility of using long trains to expand rail freight. Marathon is a joint project co-founded by the European Commission under the 7th Framework Programme for Research & Development. Launched on 1 April 2011, the 36-month initiative addresses four main priorities:

  • generate additional rail freight capacity
  • increase commercial speed for better service
  • bundle traffic for economies of scale
  • reduce operating costs


Agriculture, fertilizers, sugar

Eric Lanzeray

Automotive industry

Daniel Henry

Quarry products, cement, public works and civil engineering

Eric Lanzeray

Ore, solid fuels

Véronique Sury

Chemicals, petrochemicals

François Corvez

Consumer products

Eric Baconnier

Oil, non-ferrous metals

M. Franck Dumont

Logistics services


Technical breakthrough
in rail freight

It took two years to lay the groundwork for this successful test of the longest train ever run in Europe. Components were an 820-meter train — itself made up of two separate trains measuring 410 meters each — twinned with a third tail section. This “triple train” totalled 1,476 meters and weighed 3,909 tonnes. The key innovation consisted of linking the two locomotives (one at the head of the train and one in the middle) with a radio command and control system. An intelligent programmer in the remotely controlled locomotive in the middle of the train provided a security back-up, so that even if the radio link were to fail. the train could circulate safely in both normal and degraded mode. Trains on this scale can haul up to 70 wagons, compared with 35 for a traditional 750-meter long train.

The new record has raised high hopes among rail freight professionals and their customers. Operating longer trains is not just a technical achievement, it will eventually allow rail operators to boost traffic without scheduling additional train slots. And for rail operators opting for double trains, there is clear scope for raising productivity in all types of traffic.

“We want to use this new option to make rail freight more competitive and more attractive for French and European transport professionals,” explained Sylvie Charles, who heads Fret SNCF. “As test coordinators, we had our production teams work with infrastructure experts. And we are working with RFF to make double trains a reality on main European freight corridors within two years.”

A bold
joint project

Successful tests on 18 January and 12 April this year with Alstom-built electric locomotives and Vossloh diesel-powered locomotives reflect the hard work of many partners. In all, 16 companies contributed their expertise, including:

  • rail freight: Fret SNCF
  • 2 infrastructure managers: RFF and Trafikverket (Sweden)
  • rail equipment manufacturers: Faiveley (brake systems), Schweizer Electronic and Createch (radio command)
  • 2 rolling stock manufacturers: Alstom and Vossloh
  • 1 combined train operator: Kombiverkehr, whose Germany-Spain rakes (hauled by Fret SNCF over the French section) formed the basis of the long train

Following the successful tests, the next stage is finalizing technical input and demonstrating full compliance with regulations issued by EPSF, the French Railway Safety Authority. Once completed, double trains could start operating in 2016.