Bordeaux to Tours : South Europe Atlantic High-Speed Line
The Tours-Bordeaux high-speed rail, also known as the South Europe Atlantic high-speed rail (SEA HSR), is a massive railway project under development in France.
This development is part of the Atlantic 2017 project, which also includes the Brittany-Loire high speed lines, making the West of France more accessible. These two infrastructures will be completed in 2017 and will add a total of nearly 600 km of new tracks. They will be an extension of the LGV high-speed Atlantic line, which already runs 150 km from Paris to Courtalain.
The Brittany-Loire (BPL) line will pass through the departments of Sarthe, Mayenne and Ille-et-Vilaine, and will serve the cities of Le Mans, Sablé-sur-Sarthe and Rennes, whilst the South Europe-Atlantic (SEA) line will pass through the departments of Indre-et-Loire, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres, Charente, Charente-Maritime and Gironde, and will serve the cities of Tours, Poitiers, Angoulême and Bordeaux.
The €7.8 billion project will see travel times reduced for commuters between Paris and Bordeaux by over an hour, as well as make it easier for people to travel around the West of France and to the major French and European economic cities. The South Europe high-speed line will have 302km of high-speed between Tours and Bordeaux with 38km of line connecting to the existing rail network.
COSEA, led by the Vinci Group’s Contracting business, is in charge of laying the tracks and the full complement of signalling, telecommunication and power supply equipment. LISEA, a Vinci Concessions-led company, will be in charge of the whole line in a 50 year concession contract once the infrastructure is handed over from COSEA in 2017. LISEA will then be financing, designing, building, maintaining and operating the line.
The development began in 2012 and is expected to continue until 2017 when the line is due for completion. It took only 38 months to complete all earthworks and civil engineering works. Over the three-year period, the construction teams set up a large number of worksites along the project to build the 340 km rail infrastructure, 24 viaducts and 500 engineering structures.
The construction of the railway equipment, which consists of the tracks, the signalling, the power supply and the telecommunication, began in 2014 and is now nearly completed. Once fully completed and tested, the new rail line will be a double-track line allowing trains to operate at speeds of up to 320km/h on electric power.
The central section of the high-speed track has been ‘lit’ meaning that 25,000kV has been pumped into that area of the line. This section will now be in technical operation which is where the signalling systems, the operation and control centre, and the power supply can be used. This meant that the energy tests to check for interferences between the communications, signalling and power supply for low speed trains and the system itself were able to be started in June. Dynamic testing on the central section began in July.
By September, the northern and southern areas of the line will be ‘lit’ and the dynamic tests at the different speed levels will continue to be done on the different parts of the line. This will be completed by the end of 2016.
The first six months of 2017 will consist of the final commissions, reviews of safety checks and finalisations with the national rail authority of the line’s safety certificates. February 2017 will see the drivers of the national railway operating company travelling the line in order for commercial services to start in July.
The development has faced two major challenges so far. “The first was keeping all staff safe on the site as we’ve have had around 35 million working hours on site. Every meeting we would review the safety details and see what new challenges our workers might face,” commented Alexis de Pommerol the Vice President of LISEA. “We wanted to make sure that everyone went home safe.”
The second major challenge came in the planning of the development. As it is such a large project, many outside factors had to be taken into consideration such as environmental permits and the effect on communities. Other issues came from bad weather conditions that meant that work on the site was slowed at times.
The importance of the project is not lost to those working on it. “It’s a fantastic human invention of thousands of people who are proud and honoured to have been working on such a huge project. At the very heart of it is the people working together to bring the rail line together,” commented Alexis.
Around 8,500 jobs were created during the construction of the rail line at the height of activity, with 170 permanent jobs to handle operation and maintenance. It is expected that up to 18 million travellers will use the new line each year once it’s opened. The new line will also increase the European high-speed network, connecting the lines of the North of Europe to those from the Great South West Rail Project (GPSO).