The Autoroute Ferroviaire de l’Axe Atlantique (Atlantic Rail Motorway) is the latest initiative in a €7 billion action plan unveiled by the French government in 2009 and running until 2020, to promote rail freight.
A key element in the programme is the transfer of trucks from road to trains in order to ease congestion on France’s major highways.
The country currently has two rail motorways – one through the Alps, which links the Lyon and Turin regions, and the other runs between Luxembourg and Perpignan.
The Atlantic Rail Motorway will operate between the French Basque city of Bayonne and Dourges, an intermodal traffic hub south of Lille, via Bordeaux and Longueau, in Picardy.
SNCF Geodis subsidiary, Lorry Rail, is the prefered bidder to run the service within the framework of a concessionary agreement, expected to be signed in the first half of next year. It already operates the Luxembourg-Perpignan service.
No date has been fixed at this stage for the commercial launch of the Atlantic Rail Motorway, but it is unlikely to be before 2015.
The service will require the construction of freight terminals in Bayonne and Dourges, as well as adapting track gauges to accommodate the flat-bed wagons carrying lorry trailers. Longer-term development will see the service extended to Channel ports such as Le Havre, Rouen, Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne.
Earlier this year, Lloyd’s Loading List.com reported that SNCF Geodis was looking to build a Europe-wide “rail motorway” network capable of moving 500,000 lorry trailers by train across the continent annually.
This is ten times the yearly volume of traffic currently carried by Lorry Rail’s Luxembourg-Perpignan service.
“The potential exists for the transfer of a considerable number of standard semi-trailers onto long-distance rail motorways operating on freight corridors between northern, southern and western Europe and in the longer term, routes linking the UK, northern France and eastern Europe,” said SNCF Geodis’s rail motorway director, Thierry Le Guilloux.