The transfer of SNCF subsidiary Fret SNCF’s rail freight routes to rival operators is nearing completion.

An agreement between France and the EU over the rail freight operator’s debts entails the relinquishment of around 20 routes, of which 15 have been taken on by rivals so far, including six by DB Cargo France.

Two of the remaining routes, between France and Italy through the Alps, include a section closed to traffic since last August’s major landslide, have yet to be allocated.

Another, between Perpignan and Paris, carrying fresh fruit and vegetables, is being discontinued, at least until 2026, when it could return following construction of an intermodal terminal at the French capital’s Rungis wholesale produce market.

Under the agreement, Fret SNCF will be wound up by the end of the year and two new SNCF-owned entities created – one for rail freight and the other for maintenance. However, the market segments in which the new rail freight enterprise can operate will be restricted.

A spokesperson for Rail Logistics Europe (RLE), the umbrella structure of SNCF Group’s rail freight and logistics operations, told The Loadstar: “The new rail freight company will be prohibited from operating regular block trains with dedicated means for 10 years. This  includes trains which support combined road-rail services.”

Meanwhile, the French authorities are investing heavily in the rail freight segment, pledging €2bn to Ulysse Fret, a €4bn 10-year development programme. The remaining €2n being sourced from French regional and local councils and the EU.

Ulysse Fret encompasses projects in numerous areas: track access to private sidings; work on gravity-fed marshalling yards, service lane tracks and ‘last-km’ capillary lines; digitalisation of management tools; loading gauge modernisation; combined transport terminals; and network capacity enhancement.

The private sector – shippers, logistics companies and investment funds, will also contribute to the project, particularly in the expansion of  road-rail terminals, such as the one recently commissioned near Marseille.

Ulysse Fret is viewed as a key element in doubling rail’s market share of goods transport in France to 18% by the early 2030s

Listen to this clip from The Loadstar Podcast to hear how DP world is using rail as part of its modal shift program:


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