Engineers blamed as France orders 1,860 trains the wrong size

French Minister of Transport calls it "comic drama" now that platforms are being re-engineered to make them wide enough.

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Eyes wide shut? CNN screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Imagine you were in charge of ordering new trains for your country.

You would surely check your budget and examine all the possible trains you could buy.

You would also, no doubt, allow yourself to be wined and dined by various train manufacturers and perhaps be tempted by a backhander or two.

Along the way, though, you would surely ask your engineers to confirm what size trains would actually fit into your nation's platforms.

Sadly, it seems that this last logic escaped those who ordered 1,860 new trains for France's very fine railways.

As Reuters reports, France's national rail company, SNCF, confirmed that there had been a measure of error in its ordering. The new trains are too big for many of the nation's platforms.

A spokesman for RFF, the national rail operator, told France's Info radio: "It's as if you have bought a Ferrari that you want to park in your garage, and you realize that your garage isn't exactly the right size to fit a Ferrari because you didn't have a Ferrari before. We discovered the problem a little late...We are making our mea culpa."

The only element his analogy omitted was: "It's as if you're a garage maker who bought a Ferrari."

According to the Guardian, France's Minister of Transport described the situation as "a comic drama." It was certainly comic, as the fact that the new trains were too wide for the platforms was revealed by France's satirical newspaper, Le Canard Enchaine.

It squarely put the blame on the biggest brains: "The clever engineers at SNCF forgot to verify the facts on the ground."

It seems that the RFF's engineers sent the SNCF the measurements of platforms built in the last 30 years.

However, many of France's platforms were built longer ago than that and these have different dimensions. The SNCF's engineers took the data verbatim and ran with it. Until they got stuck.

The mistake was discovered in 2012 and has only just squeezed onto the public platform.

Now, 1,300 of France's 8,700 platforms are being re-engineered to accommodate the new trains. The cost will be some 50 million euros (around $68.4 million).

SNCF is insisting that only 341 trains are too big. However, Le Canard Enchaine says it's actually 1,860 trains from two manufacturers: Bombardier and Alstom.

Given that Le Canard Enchaine's reporting has been correct, I will go with its version and that of Reuters.

What's missing, of course, is a description of the very moment that someone, somewhere, discovered that the new trains wouldn't fit into more than 1,000 platforms.

I fancy some engineer was creating a computer simulation of the new trains glistening on the nation's platforms.

Having done so, he turned to his colleague and asked: "Does my train look too big in this?"

 

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