PARIS, Sept 29 French lawmakers on Thursday
urged the government to freeze state funding of new high-speed
rail links for 15 years in order to free up resources to upgrade
the existing, aging rail network.
Apart from being a nuisance for travelers, France's decaying
rail network - the second-largest in Europe, covering more than
29,000 kilometers - is also a security risk, a group of eight
senators from across the political spectrum said in a report.
"In focusing all financial resources on high-speed links,
our country has severely neglected other parts of the rail
network," Marie-Helene Des Esgaulx, the Senate Finance Committee
Vice-President told a news conference.
"We need to massively invest in maintenance, and this means
freezing high-speed links for 15 years," she said.
The group of senators, who represent different regions of
the country, said in the report that an extra 1 billion to 2
billion euros must be dedicated to modernise the nationwide rail
network, which is on average 32 years old.
This would lift funding commitments by the state and
state-owned rail operator SNCF to 3.5 billion-4.5 billion euros
a year over 15 years.
Des Esgaulx cited a July 2013 accident in Bretigny-Sur-Orge
outside Paris, which left seven people dead and a dozen injured.
A team of experts investigating the accident cited poor
maintenance as a cause.
The senators also recommended that the state take on at
least some of SNCF's debt, which now exceeds 44 billion euros.
Their report is not binding for the government, but it
touches on a sensitive topic in a country that prides itself on
its transport infrastructure but is at the same time under
pressure to cut its public deficit ahead of next year's
A government report said earlier this month that now was not
the right time to pick up the debts of the SNCF.
Transport infrastructure investment in France accounts for
roughly 1 percent of economic output.
In 2014, the government suspended plans for an ecotax on
heavy goods vehicles, initially aimed at raising 1 billion euros
a year to finance rail infrastructure projects, after nationwide
truck driver protests.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Ingrid Melander and