Faux Pas

France Says Sacré Bleu! When it Orders the Wrong Size of Trains


France orders wrong-size trains

If you accidentally purchase the wrong size of pants, it’s no big deal; as long as you have the receipt, you can exchange them for something that will fit. If only it were that easy in all size mishaps. When France’s national rail operator got the size wrong, it was a blunder that causes a lot of red faces and millions of dollars to correct.

The Société nationale des chemins de fer français (SNCF, “French National Railway Company”) is France’s national state-owned railway company. It oversees a railway network of about 20,000 miles (32,000 km) and 14,000 trains. In 2014, SNCF determined that some of these trains needed to be replaced, so it ordered 2,000 new ones as a cost of €15 billion ($20.5 billion).

SNCF would have benefited from carpenters’ mantra “measure twice; cut once.” When the new trains arrived, the powers that be quickly discovered a bit of a problem: they were too wide.

The trains are too big to fit in more than 1,000 station platforms around the country. The options are to put the trains on a weight-loss program or do something about the platforms. SNCF chose the latter.

Thus far, the company has spent over €50 million euros ($68.4 million) to adjust the size of the platforms, with much more work remaining.

No sooner did the company begin work to widen the platforms than it discovered another trifling issue. It turns out the new trains are also too tall to be able to fit through the tunnels along the Italian Riviera coastline route. Passengers on this route can ride the new trains to the French/Italian border, but once there, they need to transfer to a smaller train to continue on the journey.

Transportation officials admitted they “discovered the problem a bit late.” In retrospect, they might as well have used the Duke of Windsor’s prophetic, if accidental, exclamation that it was all a “formidable fart.”


Read about more embarrassing mistakes.

Read more fun facts about transportation.

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