Articles, Blog

How France Bought 2,000 Trains That Were Too Wide

How France Bought 2,000 Trains That Were Too Wide

This video was made possible by Skillshare. Start learning for free for two months by
going to Bonjour everyone and welcome to another episode
of Half as Interesting, the show that’s like if CGP Grey and a bad stand-up comedian
had a kid who read too many Wikipedia articles. My name is Sam, and I’m going to talk about
French trains in just a moment, but we’re beginning with a note from my writer Adam,
because he knows I’ll just read whatever is put in front of me:
“Hello audience, this is Adam, Sam’s very funny and extremely good looking writer. I’m here to let you know that Sam speaks
French, and so in this video I have given him as many French words to say as possible
because Sam gets stressed out about pronouncing them perfectly, and I find that funny, or
as the French might say, amusante. Au revoir, now mes amis.” Alright monsiers et mademoiselles, now that
that’s fini, let’s get started. The good news is, even if you don’t know
French, this should be easy to follow because a lot of words sound the same in English and
French. They call trains les trains, they call rails
le rails, and they call what happened to their trains and rails in 2014 stupide. See, it’s all very easy to comprendre. Our story begins in 2009, when les trains
and les rails were getting a bit run down, and so, faster than you could say un, deux,
trois, the French government decided to spend $20 billion dollars, or dix-huit milliards
d’euros, to get a new fleet of sleeker, faster, roomier trains. Fantastique, you might think, but in fact,
things were far from fantastique. You see, the French rail operator, Réseau
Ferré de France, is a separate operation from the train company, which is called Société
Nationale des Chemins de Fer. Now normally, I would abbreviate Réseau Ferré
de France as RFF and Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer as SNCF, but instead I’m
going to say their full names each time because Adam thinks that’s funny, I guess. Back in 1997, the rail operator, whose name,
again, is Réseau Ferré de France and the train company—again, Société Nationale
des Chemins de Fer—were all one company, which was also called Société Nationale
des Chemins de Fer. But in 1997, a new EU directive meant that
the government had to split them up into two different government-run entities—one for
les rails and one for les trains—and it was that separation that created the opportunity
for miscommunication. But still, things should have been easy—it
wasn’t like they had to play La Vie En Rose on a croissant; all the rail company, Réseau
Ferré de France, needed to do was tell the train company, Société Nationale des Chemins
de Fer, how wide to make the trains. The problem was, they took all their measurements
from train platforms built within the last 30 years, forgetting that the older platforms
in rural areas were built to a different standard, and ran about 8 inches, or vingt centimètres
narrower than the newer ones. They then gave those flawed measurements to
the train company, Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer. Fast forward a few years and voila, 2,000
new trains had been completed, and the trains were beautiful—sleek, fast, roomy; everything
looked like it would be magnifique—but that’s when they discovered that getting the new
trains into the older stations was like trying to stuff a baguette into a bottle of sauvignon
blanc… they just wouldn’t fit. To be clear, this wasn’t just a little mistake,
it was a full-blown catastrophe. 1,300 of the 8,700 stations in France—about
one in seven—were too narrow for the new trains to fit into. At first the government tried to keep their
mistake a secret—but soon, the news was broken by the magazine Le Canard Enchainé,
prompting cries of, “sacrebleu,” from the train makers, and cries of, “why is
our government dumber than a bucket of escargot,” from all the French people. Seeing as, “fitting into stations,” is
one of the more important qualifications a train needs to check, alongside, “fitting
on train tracks,” and, “not being an airplane,” the French government quickly got to work
fixing the problem by shaving off the edges of the older, narrower platforms. It wasn’t a particularly difficult fix,
just an expensive one. According to the Société Nationale des Chemins
de Fer, these repairs cost the French about $68.4 million dollars, or soixante millions
d’euros. For context, that’s enough money to buy
7.1 million copies of Les Miserables on DVD, or buy 2.5 million plates of foie gras de
canard mi-cuit at Au Pied de Cochon in Paris. But, if you’re heading on vacation soon
to Paris or Bordeaux or even Montpellier, don’t worry: the platforms have been fixed
and everything runs as smooth as a bowl of mousse au chocolate, and this French faux
pas feels as distant as déjà vu. If you want to learn how to be the kind of
designer who doesn’t make massive, multi-million dollar mistakes, you should check out Skillshare. It’s an online learning community for creators,
with thousands of classes in business, design, music production, photography, and much, much
more. For example, if you want to learn about how
to make animations like the ones in this video, you should check out Jake Bartlett’s class
on, “Animating With Ease in After Effects.” It’s got 18 lessons that’ll walk you through
all the steps needed to make your animations look smooth and professional. Now is the time to start to make 2020 the
year when you learn new skills or deepen existing passions and Skillshare makes this easy and
fun, for a great price: you’ll get access to their thousands of courses for less than
$10 a month when you sign up for an annual subscription. You can also go try it out for free for two
months when you go to

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

100 thoughts on “How France Bought 2,000 Trains That Were Too Wide

  1. Not super factual there HaI! It was a given that the new trains, built to european standards, would require adaptations to 15% of stations. The the full cost, € 50 million, was only 0.4% of the budget for our rail system over that period. The story was more about the fact that these costs to the rail system were incurred by the company in charge of trains, not rails, and it took a while to reach an agreement.

  2. French here: funny script but the content is dead wrong.

    – €18B is the total value of 2 contracts if all trains are ordered (around 50% have been ordered over 10 years AFAICT)
    – there was no miscommunication between RFF and SNCF, the issue was known from day one. The problem was money: who is responsible to pay for it (the central government, SNCF, RFF, the regions, etc).
    This was published as a big story by one newspaper (le Canard enchainé) and it went viral. But this sort of thing is commonplace in all railway networks, especially older ones in Europe. A couple inches are being shaved off of Paris Metro line 6 platforms as we speak and no-one is batting an eyelid, it's common practice as rolling stock changes.
    So no, there was never €18B worth of trains idling in a massive yard, waiting for platforms to be adapted so they could fit down the line.

  3. Saw the video title, IMMEDIATELY thought about Family Guy’s video of a big train entering a small tunnel😅 Nasty stuff

  4. How are there almost 10% dislikes? French people unsatisfied with his French accent or the fact that he's shedding light on this embarrassing mistake by the French government?

  5. In NSW, Australia, the government has done a similar thing with the NIF (New Intercity Fleet). The trains that are currently being delivered are 3.2m wide, which is much wider than the current rolling stock which is only 2.9m wide. For this reason, on the Blue Mountains line, the government has begun re-aligning the track in some locations and shaving back tunnels in order for the NIF to fit on the tracks.

  6. Sam, you have very good pronounciation, just be careful of those final letters, they're almost never pronounced, eg 'rail' is like 'rai'.

  7. This video consists of 20% ads and 30% "funny" french blahblah: Croissant, baguette and all this stuff. Reduced to its informational content, it could have easily been reduced in half.

  8. Alright, nice video, but you have shown a lot of videos of TGV. Instead, you should have shown some videos of Regiolis or Regio2N since they were the trains impacted by this mistake.

    This gauge problem was not unknown by RFF at the time of the reveal and modifications of the platforms were already in progress. The reveal has cost a lot of money because it provoked so much discussions and bad reputation that RFF had to put more money to do the modifications quicker than what was planned. So we can thank this magazine because it made us use more money than the initial project. 😉

  9. The colour balance in the arc de triomphe footage around 4:05 looks WAY off (unless for some reason the flag shown there actually was black-white-red).

  10. In the German city of Duisburg the same happened just a few months ago. The neighbouring city of Düsseldorf operates a light rail line into Duisburg, but Duisburg also operates a tramway system on its own.
    These two types of transport use the same tracks, but different platforms … and yes, those that are used in Duisburg only are narrower than those of Düsseldorf's light rail. And yes, Düsseldorf just bought new light rail trains and these don't fit into the stations in Duisburg. With the exception that:
    1. they only discovered this when they drove one of the new trains into Duisburg and it … got stuck
    2. they can't just cut the narrower platforms as these are used by Duisburg tramway. The new light rail trains won't be able to operate on the line into Duisburg.

  11. We had kind of a similar problem in Ukraine(but on a much smaller scale) after buying Hyundai trains. Some platforms gave trains scratches! :[

  12. Damn, I hate it when I buy trains that are just too god damn wide. Its like if a Tiger II tried to get between two trees on a narrow road to Moscow, that ain't happening Comrade! God Damn Capitalist and there F**cking kettle on wheels. George Steve and his British NATO members can get a one-way ticket to the gulag.

  13. This video drags on too much and has too many unfunny jokes, even for your standard. Sorry, I thought you'd appreciate some honest feedback.

  14. Dude, stop acting like there’s anyone but you working on these videos. Like you’ve got teams of people and shit, like there’s actually an “Adam”. Ok bro 🙄 ….you make these videos by yourself, in your underwear 🩲in your moms basement.

  15. The EXACT same thing happened in Montreal (Canada) with the new subway trains….. new trains where too big for the tunnels….

  16. You feel thats worse…try travelling in a railway system that almost never gets any upgrades or proper maintenance. India.

  17. Aw you skipped the part where the government cut pensions, increased the retirement age, and everyone went on strike.

  18. I agree with other comments: as a French native, c'était awful mais funny! 🙂
    A precision, SNCF means Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (yep, the F stands for Français, not Fer)
    Merci very beaucoup !

  19. But seriously though, if I didn't say the entire name of these companies, the video would only be 2 minutes long.

  20. "And this French faux pas feels as distant as deja vu." … Unless you live in Sydney where the government bought trains that won't fit through existing tunnels in 2018…

  21. You d o know this kind of shit wouldn't of haooen if the industry was privatized right?
    And if it somehow did, they wouldn't of spend MILLIONS OF DOLLARS IN T A X E S.
    And buy it at TWICE AS CHEAP PRICE

  22. This kind of stupidity permeates all govt and business worldwide.
    *Last month a suburb near me had a sudden tax revenue windfall and of course spent it.
    Turns out, a computer input mistake included all commercial/private property tax abatements that had NOT yet lapsed.
    **Recently I watch a video where a mistake with a few zeros in another county/state deemed a house/property with a taxable value of 1,000,000,000.
    Yep, One Billion.
    The budget was configured to that sudden increase of anticipated tax revenue.
    ***I recently worked in a production facility of a MAJOR Fortune 500 food producer.
    They installed stacking robots so that would not be a manual labor job.
    They installed the first robot, hit the switch and on the first cycle of operation the elbow slammed int the wall.
    ** In my very town a MAJOR regional convenience store replaced the fuel tanks, pumps and canopy; completely reconfiguring the layout to add more lanes/pumps.
    This operation took 2 months.
    It looked like the process was nearly complete and when there the next time I asked the clerk when the canopy was going up; the last step.
    The look she gave me was priceless as she replied,
    "Someone forgot to order it."

    The engineers in France didn't question why the train size increased after decades of being a certain size??
    I worked as a school bus driver 30 years ago; I still remember certain important facts/policy of the job.

    No one questions sudden massive increase of revenue?
    I (we) know what is in our checking account daily.

    Three sets of engineers; my company, the robot manufacturer and the installation company couldn't accurately measure a room?
    You can go to a big box home improvement store for less than a 200 bucks buy a device you hold up in the air of a room and with ONE click of a button, get all necessary measurements of that room.

    Forgetting to order or fulfill a MAJOR part/aspect of the minions job; probably would end in termination.

    These people that are "experts" in their field/occupation are head shaking incompetent.

    It is no small matter that many of them are our offspring that lived in the first era of no accountability participation ribbons for all.

    And then THEY had kids…shudder.
    More shit is gonna fall out of the sky and fail…..let's watch…..

  23. Nobody says the full name of SNCF.
    You just made a world record of the number of occurance of "Société nationale des chemins de fer" in one speech.

  24. Sounds like the Zooey Deschanel Affair needs to learn how to measure before they order more chooches. The metric system may be better, because they don’t use annoying fractions—but it doesn’t matter what units you’re using if you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing!

  25. The conspiracy theorist in me says they did it on purpose so that they could have bigger trains without disclosing how much it would cost to reconstruct all all of the older platforms.

  26. Laughs in American rail system. We may not have that good of a passenger rail system. But we have got the best freight rail system in the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *