Ulysse Fret program: A €4 billion boost for France's rail freight future

Ulysse Fret program: A €4 billion boost for France's rail freight future
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The Ulysse Fret program is about to enter a crucial phase in July 2024, when it will finalize a strategic action plan for investments totaling €4 billion up to 2032.

France is on the verge of a major step forward in rail freight with the Ulysse Fret program, a strategic initiative to strengthen the sector with €4 billion of investment by 2032. Announced in May 2023 by the then Minister of Transport, Clément Beaune, and with half of its funding from the French government, the program is due to finalize its action plan in July 2024. This will determine the prioritization and launch of projects to improve rail freight infrastructure throughout the country.

Laurent Marseille, director of the Ulysse Fret program, highlighted the focus on investments that promise the highest development impact for rail freight. Key areas include preserving capillary networks, which are essential for regional connectivity, and developing combined transport capacity. SNCF Réseau is the main implementing body, working closely with Alliance 4F and the Directorate General for Infrastructure, Transport, and Mobility (DGITM).

The program has six main investment categories: tracks and marshaling yards, capillary lines, branch terminals, digitalization, loading gauge modernization, combined transport platforms, and network capacity enhancement, the latter of which is expected to receive the lion's share of the funding, estimated at €2.350 billion. However, budgetary constraints require strategic choices to maximize impact within the €4 billion limit, with a focus on attracting private investment for new intermodal sites to increase operational capacity.

Despite these well-laid plans, the implementation timetable remains a critical concern, especially in the context of the ongoing closure of capillary freight lines. The progress of the program depends on the outcome of the negotiations on the CPERs, which will clarify the financial allocations for the modernization and maintenance of the capillary freight lines. Paul Mazataud, SNCF Réseau's rail freight program director, mentioned efforts to speed up the start of projects, including innovative solutions for short-term parking of freight trains and the rapid start of work on gravity-fed marshaling yards.

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