The renewal of small railway lines begins in the Vosges

In the region, it is nicknamed “the Macron line”. This rail link, which winds through the first Vosges foothills between Epinal and Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, had been closed since December 2018. It reopens with great fanfare on Sunday 12 December. It must be said that Emmanuel Macron put pressure, at the beginning of 2019, on the management of the SNCF so that the rebirth of this line – a presidential promise – is effectively and quickly implemented.

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Mr. Macron is not expected to travel to Saint-Dié for the reopening ceremony, but the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, and the Minister of Transport, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, will make the inaugural gesture in the presence of the President (Les Républicains) of the Grand-Est region, Jean Rottner. The latter has made the relaunch of the train on his land a battle horse. “It’s more than a symbol, declares the city councilor. It is the result of a long-term approach by the region, which aims to re-enchant the train. “

The line goes from five daily round trips during the week before closing to ten a day, including several direct Epinal – Saint-Dié, “To offer a real alternative to the car”, says Mr Rottner.

Lines threatened with disappearance

If the boss of the region has reason to rejoice, the event is also a source of satisfaction for the government, which sees in this reopening a beginning of validation of its strategy for the renewal of small railway lines. The subject became hot in 2018, when a report signed by Jean-Cyril Spinetta on the state of the French rail system suggested that the State withdraw, in favor of the regions, from the 9,000 kilometers of small French railway lines (32 % of railways and 17% of travelers).

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Sacrificed for years to the whole TGV policy, the “fine service lines of the territory” had become a drag for the SNCF and were, in part, threatened with disappearance. Before 2030, and except for massive investment, 6,500 kilometers of track would be affected by slowdowns for lack of maintenance. That is three quarters of the small lines. Worse: 4,000 kilometers of this line (14% of the total network) risked – and still risk – outright closure.

The then Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, however, refused the option of disengagement. A mission had been entrusted to the prefect François Philizot, with the aim of carrying out an inventory and defining a rescue strategy. After much procrastination, this policy was unveiled in February 2020: an investment of 6 billion euros over ten years and a division into three categories of lines to be saved (apart from 800 kilometers already regenerated). Thus, 1,400 kilometers of lines must be taken over by the State, 5,800 kilometers, rehabilitated within the framework of a State-region plan contract, and the last 1,000, completely entrusted to the regions.

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