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Forty years of VINCI expertise in high-speed rail projects

26 November 2021 - Events - France

On 22 September 1981, François Mitterand inaugurated France’s first TGV train, set to cover the 409 km separating Paris and Lyon in just 2 hours and 40 minutes. Forty years later, the national high-speed rail network has greatly expanded and now spans over 2,700 km, transporting more than 100 million passengers every year.

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The TGV has proven a great success in both technical and business terms, thanks to particularly thorough infrastructure work – which had to be created specifically for high-speed trains only, as their needs differ from those of conventional trains. High-speed rail is a high-tech industry and requires companies that specialise in the design, construction and maintenance of its infrastructure. Fortunately, VINCI teams possess the necessary expertise. Here’s how to build and maintain a high-speed line.

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VINCI expertise at key steps in the lifecycle of an HSL

Planning the route

From decision-making through to delivery, the construction of a high-speed line is a long-term process that can take decades. Once funding has been secured, choosing the best possible route begins. High-speed lines differ from standard railway lines; in general, they feature more gradual curves, as the centrifugal force could destabilise a train on a bend if it is too short. However, when travelling at high speed, these trains can go up steeper slopes than their conventional equivalents.

A high-speed line creates a certain amount of disturbance and should therefore never be placed too close to residential areas. Nevertheless, it should serve as many regions as possible, creating connections and fostering mobility. The South Europe Atlantic HSL, managed by VINCI Concessions subsidiary LISEA, has created a dense network in all of the regions it covers – a total of 113 towns. The 38 km connection to the national rail network has linked cities in the west of France such as Poitiers, Angoulême and La Rochelle to the HSL.
The route therefore needs to satisfy both of these requirements. Once the main route is decided, it is submitted for investigation and public debate. All that needs to happen next is land acquisition – i.e., purchasing the plots where the railway line will be built – before the earthworks and civil engineering begin.

Building the line

After the earthworks stage, the construction of the engineering structures really begins. A number of bridges and tunnels are required in order to create the straight lines needed for high-speed lines. Since the 1980s, VINCI has built a number of engineering structures for new French high-speed lines, such as the East European HSL or the Rhin-Rhône HSL. For example, for the Rhin-Rhône HSL project connecting Dijon and Belfort, the Group built six viaducts between 2006 and 2008. And during construction of the LGV Méditerranée from 1996 to 1999, VINCI built 18 engineering structures in various towns in Bouches-du-Rhône, southeast France.

Another type of engineering structure required is tunnels. Teams from VINCI have demonstrated their expertise, for example while building the Saverne Tunnel through the Vosges mountain range between 2010 and 2015 as part of the project for the East European HSL. At 4 km long, with two bores, it is the largest engineering structure on this high-speed line between Paris and Strasbourg. At the start of the millennium, VINCI built the Soumagne Tunnel in Belgium – a 6.5 km tunnel located in a complex geological environment with highly varied rocks and sediment and on the site of former mines. It is currently the country’s longest rail tunnel.

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The Indre Viaduct worksite

Laying the tracks

Once the engineering structures have been built, it is time to lay the track. The operation first involves applying a layer of ballast. The concrete sleepers that the rails will be placed on is then installed on the ballast bed. That’s not forgetting the points, which are used to direct the trains. Once the track has been laid, the electricity infrastructure has to be installed – not just overhead lines, but also electricity converter stations along the entire line. For example, teams from VINCI Construction created all of the infrastructure – track and overhead lines – for the 315 km LGV Méditerranée between Lyon and Marseille.

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Tracklaying for the East European HSL

Building the stations

Stations are the gateway to the high-speed network; as such, they must be accessible and situated near city centres in order to retain the comparative advantage of high-speed rail.

VINCI is currently building Old Oak Common station in northwest London, which involves the creation of six underground platforms to access HS2, a high-speed line from London to Birmingham. Once complete, this station will be the best connected in the United Kingdom, directly linking three major airports and eight of Britain’s largest cities.

For more information about the Old Oak Common station project.

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The future Old Oak Common Station in London

Maintenance

The significant effort of supporting high-speed railway lines means that considerable and regular maintenance is required. The aim is to guarantee safe and reliable TGV journeys for all passengers. As a result, before passenger trains start service every morning, the SEA HSL maintenance teams at VINCI Concessions’ subsidiary MESEA check the track, points, overhead lines, signalling and telecommunications to a high degree of precision.

To maximise efficiency, the teams harness digital innovations. For example, the TIME app (from “Ticket Incident MESEA”) reports technical data in real time, so that a range of indicators can be monitored – including track temperature, maintenance vehicle location and, soon, weather tracking at strategic locations.

Thanks to the application of rigorous standards, 94% of trains on the SEA HSL arrived on time in 2018.

The South Europe Atlantic HSL, a piece of infrastructure designed, funded, built and operated by VINCI

The South Europe Atlantic High-Speed Rail Line connects Tours and Bordeaux, making the latter reachable in just 2 hours 5 minutes from Paris since the line went into service in 2017.

Spanning 302 km of track with 500 engineering structures, it was one of the largest infrastructure projects in Europe in recent years. A total of 8,500 people were involved, as were a number of VINCI subsidiaries.

VINCI Concessions holds a 33.4% stake in LISEA, which is now the concession holder of the line. LISEA aims to manage the infrastructure while working with all stakeholders to help upgrade the French rail system and contribute to the environmental transition.

To know more about the South Europe Atlantic high-speed line

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