Perpignan – Futures train: “An established economic model with an empty return”… Does the SNCF lack ambition on this freight line?

Even before the return of the new fruit and vegetable campaign, season II, of the early train in a lighter version, the CGT union is already crying out about the lack of vision and ambition of the SNCF on this rail link. An argument that raises many questions about the issue of sustainable development of this line and more generally freight by SNCF Logistics.

September 2022. In a few weeks, the train des primeurs will be back on the rails for a second transport campaign of fresh produce between the Saint-Charles international market in Perpignan and the Rungis market of national interest in Val-de-Marne. A year ago, the historic rotation was still a thing of the (recent) past. A two-year break, between 2019 and 2021, has in fact cut off the circulation of fruit and vegetables from Saint-Charles on this strategic rail artery linking the south of France and the Paris region. Two years of interruption which especially provoked the anger of the CGT railway workers and the questioning of many professionals and users of the Perpignan or Parisian markets.

Especially since in terms of ecological transition, the closure of a fresh produce freight line had a really bad effect. The Prime Minister at the time, namely Jean Castex, therefore quickly took an interest in the file. Solutions have been found between the SNCF and the carrier Primever of Saint-Charles is in charge of the 12 wagons of the train des primeurs. Thus, at the end of a relentless fight, the CGT could savor its victory on October 21, 2021 when restarting the machines of the freight train. On November 2, the train and its 12 refrigerated wagons will once again resume their five weekly rotations. Better still, in the columns of the newspaper Les Echos, at the beginning of August 2022, Edouard Martin Laverny, the Commercial Director of the Rail Freight Transport Division at SNCF Logistics shared this satisfaction on the operation of the train: “Overall, the average filling rate is 10 wagons, or 80%”he said while appealing to other potential customers: “There’s still room!” The best of all worlds, one would be tempted to think in front of such a perfect painting. But not for trade unionists.

“A Discount Train”

Mikaël Meusnier of the CGT Railway Workers’ Union of Perpignan, the linchpin of the return of the train to the rails, does not have the same reading. For him it is “a cheap train” which circulates as he explained Thursday at a press conference in Perpignan. “What we want, from November 2, are not 12 but 24 wagons as before the interruption. The question is not whether there are customers since we know there are. a and the SNCF too. A second carrier is in the running to load other wagons. We know this as far as Rungis, where the market leaders are also not hiding their interest in an increase in volumes. Therefore, where is the SNCF’s desire to develop this line? And also, it is essential today to redefine the rotations. Why does this train have to continue to go down empty to Perpignan? It’s an aberration”.

It will be understood, for the CGT, the absence of search for new loaders for additional traffic which would make it possible to operate in particular a return in load, weakens the future of the service. But in the corridors of SNCF Logistics, the music is not the same. “We are working on this question of the empty return”, indicates Julien Kauffmann, collaborator of Edouard Martin Laverny, contacted Friday September 9. And to confirm that SNCF Logistics “Is thinking about optimizing the filling of the return train. If a loader is interested, this could be put in place. But the economic model of the primeur train has been established with an empty return”. Otherwise, no answer so far on the question of completing the train with new wagons operated by a carrier other than Primever and also settling the question of competition. “We have no visibility on the filling, for the time being, the train is running with 12 wagons rented by the company Primever, that’s the contract”responds for the moment SNCF Logistics.

The question of refrigerated wagons

In the meantime, the train of primeurs is guaranteed to run for another two years, under a three-year contract granted by the SNCF together with the passage of a subsidy to finance the new departure of a train which has become over the years not profitable… But the envelope of several million euros would only serve to limit the losses of the operators as much as possible, without seeking, it seems, to perpetuate the link through sustainable development and above all, through an investment in terms of wagons to improve the profitability of the tool. The wagons, precisely, the sinews of war for the CGT which fears above all the dismantling of the refrigerated wagons of the SNCF fleet. A crucial question, decisive in the issue of the train des primeurs. And on which the SNCF remains very vague: “The primeurs train has a total of 34 wagons, 12 are used for each rotation and the rest are used as a reserve, in the event of overhaul or repair. The wagons are rented from the Ermewa company. The fleet is not expandable”confides Julien Kauffmann.

It remains to be seen whether the ex-refrigerated wagons that once made up the Perpignan-Paris link will one day return to the rails. But the only certainty is that the train des primeurs has not finished seeing green and unripe ones.

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