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Metropolitan RER: in the cities concerned, where are the projects?

Last November, in a video published on YouTube, Emmanuel Macron expressed his wish to develop an urban train network in ten large French cities, based on the model of the regional express network (RER) of Île-de-France.

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Metropolitan RER: in the cities concerned, where are the projects?

Last November, in a video published on YouTube, Emmanuel Macron expressed his wish to develop an urban train network in ten large French cities, based on the model of the regional express network (RER) of Île-de-France. The Head of State repeated this ambition this Monday during his presentation of the broad outlines of ecological planning, announcing 700 million euros from the State to build 13 metropolitan RERs.

According to SNCF Réseau, “around fifteen projects are underway in France, at more or less advanced stages”. To accelerate these projects and put into music the promise of the President of the Republic, the National Assembly adopted last June a text broadening the missions of the Société du Grand Paris, renamed Société des grands Projets. Le Figaro takes stock of current projects.

In Strasbourg, the European Metropolitan Express Network (REME) is already a reality, since it was put into service last December. This is the first to have been launched outside Île-de-France. Nearly ten months after its inauguration, the project got off to a chaotic start. At the beginning of June, only 600 more trains were running each week on the network, far from the approximately 800 planned in December and even the thousand initially promised for the end of August.

This “Strasbourg RER” was originally intended to guarantee “high traffic timings and speeds”, an “extensive timetable”, or even “a territorial and resolutely cross-border network”, praised the region, to which the prerogative of transport returns by right. The region which, with the Eurometropolis of Strasbourg, finances the project to the tune of around 14 million euros per year. For the user, the initial objective was to reduce the waiting time between each train to a quarter of an hour during peak hours, and to triple the number of daily trains in certain stations between 2022 and 2023, such as at Graffenstaden . Today, SNCF no longer sets quantified objectives, but is counting on a gradual ramp-up of REME until 2030, reports France Bleu.

In Bordeaux too, the Metropolitan RER project is already well underway. The Bordeaux metropolis and the region endorsed a common roadmap in April 2018, before beginning the first works immediately. At the end of 2020, a first connection between Libourne and Arcachon was put into service, without change in Bordeaux. But it was in June that the first brick of the future metropolitan RER was really laid, with the inauguration of the new Bouscat-Sainte-Germaine railway stop, which should be served by 44 stops per day during the week. Traveling to Bordeaux last June, Minister Delegate for Transport Clément Beaune assured that the State was ready to put 150 million euros out of its own pocket into this Bordeaux RER project. The government would like a complete financing plan to be completed by the end of the year, to be able to launch the first phase of the project.

The transformations focus on increasing the supply, with 150 more trains each day planned in 2030 compared to 2020. The move upmarket will take place gradually. The network itself is also completely redesigned as a “star”. The train lines will go from one end of the metropolis to the other by crossing Bordeaux, whereas today you often have to stop there to change trains. Ultimately, in 2030, the Bordeaux RER should have 300 kilometers of rails for three lines and 54 stations in total.

Also read: Why the metropolitan RERs are moving slowly

After having floundered for years, the Hauts-de-France express network project, sometimes called “RER Lille-mining basin”, seems well and truly launched. Last June, the State, the region and the Lille metropolis commissioned SNCF Réseau and the Société du Grand Paris, now Société des Grands Projets (SGP), to define the governance of this future metropolitan RER. The objective of this future network is to double train frequencies during peak hours on the Lille metropolitan network, so as to connect the metropolis more quickly to Lens, Douai, Hénin-Beaumont or Valenciennes in particular. The goal is to achieve this by 2035-2040, according to French rail system manager SNCF Réseau.

But its financing has not yet been found. “This is a project worth more than seven billion euros by 2040 because it requires creating a third station in Lille and 37 km of tracks,” explains Franck Dhersin, vice-president of the region in charge of transport. In February 2022, during a trip to the North, Emmanuel Macron committed to financing an RER in the Lille metropolis in order to open up the mining basin. “The luck of the Basin will be in its opening,” declared the head of state.

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The project for a “Marseille-style RER” was included in the “Marseille en grand” plan presented on site by Emmanuel Macron in September 2021, accompanied by a state investment of 115 million euros. Last November, when the Head of State expressed his wish to establish RERs in 10 metropolises, the tenant of the Élysée confirmed that that of Aix-Marseille would be one of them. As for the Southern region, it is indicated that this future network should allow a train to run every 10 to 15 minutes.

But regarding the agenda, the vagueness remains. The infrastructures necessary for the transformation of the current network into RER are not planned for tomorrow. An essential project, the development of an underground station in Marseille Saint-Charles should not be completed before 2035. “Nothing will be possible in terms of qualitative and quantitative strengthening of the rail offer before 2037”, even indicates in a report published in August by the Nosterpaca association, which promotes a more efficient transport offer in the Southern region.

Also read Developing metropolitan RERs: what is the benefit for large French cities?

The “Lyon-style RER” has been envisaged for many years without ever going beyond the theoretical stage. In April 2022, the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, relaunched the project. Its ambition is to have a means of transport every fifteen minutes during peak hours to go to Lyon from the entire metropolis, with the possibility of getting there from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. The elected official promised that his project will allow everyone to save between a quarter of an hour and half an hour per journey by 2035.

In June 2022, a new track was put into service at La Part-Dieu station, to improve the regularity of trains and decongest the station, frequented by 125,000 travelers per day. “This new L route is the cornerstone of the future Lyon RER, one of the most important future projects for our region,” responded Laurent Wauquiez. Since then, the project has not progressed much. Last November, the environmentalist president of the Metropolis of Lyon Bruno Bernard, while welcoming Emmanuel Macron's commitment, was cautious. “Since 2015 and the election of Laurent Wauquiez, not much has happened. I can only be pleased that, for several months, we have been making progress on the file but it is too early to say that it will come to fruition,” he declared.

Other metropolitan RER projects have been launched in other metropolises. One of the latest concerns the Côte d'Azur. The president of the South region Renaud Muselier announced last June a metropolitan RER between Cannes, Nice and Monaco, with the objective of a train every quarter of an hour by the summer of 2025. And this from 6 hours from morning to 11 p.m. in the evening.

A similar project in the Nantes region is on track, but it is not making much progress, according to user associations. In Rennes, the State would be ready to give a financial boost to the project, according to the local press. In Isère, an RER in the Grenoble area has been supported for several years by economic circles, without so far being able to overcome the financing obstacle. In Toulouse, if it is a “priority” of the Occitanie region, the project also comes up against the necessary financial resources.

SEE ALSO - Macron wants to “develop an RER network” in “ten major French metropolises”

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