It was one of the weirder experiences of my #CrossBorderRail project last year. I had arrived in Belfort in eastern France from Besançon, and needed to get to Delémont in Switzerland. There is a line between the two, but Swiss trains mostly depart from the TGV station that is 10km south of Belfort, and I was to arrive at Belfort-Ville – in town.
So rather than wait 80 minutes for the very intermittent TER regional train from Belfort-Ville to Belfort-Montbéliard TGV, I hopped on my bike instead, got there in 30 mins, and got an earlier train to Switzerland. You can find about this escapade on Twitter here:
Belfort Ville to Belfort-Montbéliard TGV / Meroux. In 30 seconds! (It took me 30 minutes – but I got the connection!) pic.twitter.com/Qmk4cdgZjj
— Jon Worth (@jonworth) June 30, 2022
The serious point however is that the connections on this line are horrible – if you want to get to Belfort itself (60000 inhabitants), or indeed Montbéliard (45000 inhabitants). If you are going from the Swiss side and want a TGV on the high speed line then it’s all passable.
And now… it is going to get even worse.
Yes, you read that right.
Negotiations have been ongoing to extend the Swiss services from Delémont all the way to Belfort. Doing this would require Swiss railways SBB to provide a couple more EMUs for the service (SNCF doesn’t have any in that region compatible with Swiss electrification), and as these services are publicly subsidised, the French région – Bourgogne-Franche-Comté – would need to support the operation. And they have refused. They could also buy some of their own trains compatible with the Swiss electrification system (Régiolis, as used on the Léman Express) and have rejected this as well.
So the plan now is for all trains to terminate at Delle – the border station. So basically splitting the line in two, with SNCF operating Belfort-Ville – Belfort-Montbéliard TGV – Delle, and SBB operating Delle – Delémont.
France Bleu reports the reaction, French side – my translation:
But to implement this direct line project, “we realised that the only solution would have been to entrust the SBB [Swiss Federal Railways] with all the services on this line“, explains Michel Neugnot, senior vice-president in charge of mobility at the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Region. This would have meant that SNCF would simply have been “ejected” from the operation of this line, “without being able at any time to compare service proposals or fares“, according to him.
Decrypting this: we’re not willing to subsidise a Swiss train. Whether SNCF even cares much about this isn’t known.
To put it lightly, the Swiss are not amused. This is from the Canton of Jura:
All trains running between Delémont and Belfort will stop at the border at Delle from December 2025. This change is the result of the decision by the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté Region not to pursue the measures aimed at maintaining and improving the joint cross-border service. The Canton of Jura, which had made a major commitment to high-quality cross-border services, regrets this decision.
And also let’s not forget that the Swiss paid 24.5 million Swiss Francs for the renovation of the line on the French side that only re-opened in 2018.
This is a region with a lot of cross border commuter potential, as well as the opportunity to connect the TGV station with both Belfort and the towns and villages on the Swiss side of the border. Yet the narrow minded parochialism of Michel Neugnot and Bourgogne-Franche-Comté is preventing the improvement of the offer.
And that’ll be a load of people driving across the border instead. An abject failure.
Oh, what’s the main industry in Montbéliard… let’s not go there.