After years of controversy, the French government announced yesterday that it would fund a new TGV route from Marseille to Nice along the country’s Côte d’Azur. The project, which will cost upwards of €15 billion to build, will provide significant travel time savings along the Mediterranean coast and dramatically improve connections between Paris and Nice. The statement by Jean-Louis Borloo, Minister of Ecology, sets the stage for a decade-long engineering and construction program.
This new line will be the most costly high-speed rail line yet built by the French government, a result of its planned numerous tunnels and bridges. The single most expensive element of the program will be a train tunnel under Marseille, where TGV trains from Paris currently terminate at the stub-end St. Charles station. The country’s mountainous coastline similarly poses a number of challenges to the project’s completion.
The brand-new route is necessary because the existing line, which connects France’s third, sixth, and tenth largest metro regions — Marseille, Nice, and Toulon, respectively — is saturated and sees traffic equivalent to that in the Ile-de-France capital region. As a result, the government considered a number of alternative routings for the line, including several routes that would have bypassed both Marseille and Toulon. Those inland corridors would have been far cheaper to build, but would have disrupted the landscape made famous by Cézanne’s late 19th-century paintings and were subject to strong local opposition.
The choice of a coastal route has a number of advantages, though it will lengthen Paris-Nice trips from a 3h40 travel time for the inland route to a modestly slower 3h50. On the other hand, the route improves accessibility for Marseille and Toulon, both of which would have been sidelined had the other route been picked. Nice and Marseille will now be within one hour of one another, versus 2h25 today. This route choice also will provide better connections between Marseille and Italy when improvements are eventually made on the line between Nice and Genoa.
One likely result of the line’s completion will be a diminution of traffic at the Nice Airport, which is currently the country’s third largest after a pair in Paris. Lyon and Marseille, both connected to the high-speed network, see a third less traffic at their respective airports even though their metropolitan areas are each almost twice as large as that of Nice. Nice’s airport will probably see about half its routes eliminated.
This news comes just after the French government approved plans for a new high-speed route between Paris and Le Havre along the coast in northwestern France. That new corridor, to cost €4 billion, will connect the capital to the coast in 1h15 — compared to two hours today — and be completed by 2020. Interestingly, a section of this line will also serve as a reliever for Paris-London Eurostar trains, which will branch off the route and head towards the Eurotunnel at Calais. Eurostar trains are currently confined to the at-capacity Paris-Lille TGV line. In time, that connection will be reserved for TGV and Thalys trains routed towards Belguim.
Image above: Route of new train connection, from France Info.