France Bans Rail Competitors


Supposedly, European high-speed trains are so successful that the airlines stop operating when new high-speed rail corridors open. The reality is much more dismal: in order to guarantee customers for its trains, France is banning airline flights in corridors served by high-speed rail. This is a tacit admission that government-owned trains can’t compete without forcibly shutting down competitors.

Under the new rule, commercial air flights are banned in corridors where trains can make the same journey in under 150 minutes. So far, this is limited to Paris-Bordeaux, Paris-Lyon, and Paris-Nantes. The French government wanted to extend it to five more city pairs, but the European Commission ruled that France could only ban air travel in corridors that had not just fast but frequent rail service. Members of France’s Green Party also want to extend it to corridors where trains make the journey in under 240 minutes.

Paris-Lyon is supposed to be the most successful high-speed rail corridor in Europe, one that supposedly makes a profit. The Antiplanner has questioned such claims because the state-owned rail company hasn’t published actual numbers, but France’s effort to legislate away the competition suggests that the trains aren’t doing as well as people claim.

Of course, the goal of banning air travel is not to make trains profitable but to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Advocates of high-speed trains are quite hypocritical when it comes to greenhouse gases. On one hand, they ignore the possibility of fueling air travel with biofuels.

On the other hand, France and Italy are building a 36-mile-long tunnel under the Alps to connect Lyon with Turin. I wonder how many millions of tons of greenhouse gases that project will emit? When the tunnel is done, which won’t be until the end of this decade, the greenies will no doubt advocate an end to air service between France and northern Italy, then they’ll brag about the great success of the new train line.

This piece first appeared at The Antiplanner.

Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, is a policy analyst with nearly 50 years of experience reviewing transportation and land-use plans and the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Photo: courtesy The AntiPlanner