French state-controlled railway operator SNCF will be forced to modify more than a thousand stations after it was revealed that the 1,860 new trains it ordered at a cost of €15 billion ($20.5 billion) are too wide for many of the country's platforms. The mistake, which was revealed by satirical magazine Le Canard Enchainé, has already cost SNCF more than €50 million ($68.4m), as the operator started quietly "shaving" the edges of affected platforms.
1,300 stations out of a total of 8,700 in the country were deemed too narrow for the new trains to use, but 300 of those had already been discreetly widened when the scale of the error was shown to the public. The new regional express trains, due to go into service in 2016, were ordered after SNCF consulted with rail network operator RFF. Responding to SNCF's request for platform dimensions, RFF sent over measurements — but only for stations built in the last 30 years. Many of France's rural stations, such as those in the country's south-west Midi-Pyrenees region, were built more than 50 years ago and are narrower.
The train operator has already discreetly shaved 300 platforms to make them wider
SNCF said that only 341 trains were affected, but Le Canard Enchainé insisted the operator was only counting trains that had already been delivered by manufacturers Alstom and Bombardier, and that all 1,860 new trains had the same issue. Frédéric Cuvillier, the French transport secretary, called the mistake a "comic drama" and blamed it on the previous center-right French government's decision to split the SNCF and the RFF into two separate state-run entities.
The SNCF and RFF will submit a report to Cuvillier in which both entities will attempt to explain how the error was made. The report is due next week, but RFF spokesman Christophe Piednoël summed up the problem already with a flamboyant metaphor. "It's as if you have bought a Ferrari that you want to park in your garage, and you realize that your garage isn't exactly the right size to fit a Ferrari because you didn't have a Ferrari before."