France's Big Train Problem: New Fleet Too Wide For Platforms

A French railway company says it has ordered hundreds of new regional trains that are too wide to use at many French station platforms. It will cost nearly $70 million to fix the mistake.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Somewhere in Paris, railways executives must be cursing in French. They ordered $4 billion worth of new trains. Turns out the trains are be too big to fit in many French train stations around the countries. Sacre bleu.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN WHISTLE)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Gleaming trains from across France pull into this Paris station. The decade-long modernization and expansion program is designed to handle the huge rise in passenger traffic across France.

The spacious new trains will be able to accommodate passengers with disabilities and hold bicycles. The only problem is they're too wide to fit in about 1,300 stations across France because someone gave the wrong platform dimensions. The error was revealed this week by satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchaine.

Officially, the cost of widening the platforms is estimated at $70 million. But a former transport minister hinted that the costs could run into the hundreds of millions.

Some blame the mistake on the breakup of the French rail system in the late '90s due to a European Union directive. French transport minister Frederic Cuvillier called it an absurd situation.

FREDERIC CUVILLIER: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: This is what happens when you separate those who manage the train infrastructure with those who drive the trains, he said.

An investigation into the blunder is underway. And there is talk of reuniting the two branches of the French rail service.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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