The European Investment Bank (EIB) announces a EUR 50 million loan to the Champagne-Ardenne Region for purchasing 25 AGC-type motor-coach trains to upgrade SNCF's regional rolling stock.

Bringing these new trains into service between 2006 and 2008 will substantially increase passenger comfort and improve the performance of the regional network.

The finance contract enabling the Region to implement this project was signed on 1 September in Châlons-en-Champagne by the President of Champagne-Ardenne's Regional Council, Jean-Paul Bachy, and EIB Vice-President Philippe de Fontaine Vive.

At the signing ceremony, Mr de Fontaine Vive stressed the importance attached by the EIB to supporting the Region's infrastructure projects: transport regionalisation, the contractual plan 2000-2006 and the TGV Est européen. Indeed, in 2001 the EIB signed an initial EUR 40 million finance contract with the Champagne-Ardenne Region in connection with this major priority trans-European project, thereby underpinning the Region's financial commitments towards the TGV Est. As with other regions, the EU's financing institution stands ready to assist Champagne-Ardenne in its drive for renewal and development and in implementing programmes that are vital for its future.

Mr Bachy affirmed that the EIB had been asked to finance this rail upgrading project alongside traditional banking partners as part of the Region's strategy of diversifying its funding sources with the aim of obtaining the best interest rate and maturity terms and reducing its debt burden.

The European Investment Bank, the EU's financing institution, funds infrastructure projects throughout the Union, notably in the transport sector. This operation brings EIB lending for the Champagne-Ardenne Region's economic development to almost EUR 350 million. Schemes financed include construction of the A-4 and A-26 motorways, as well as the Sena, EDF Revin and Gaz de France energy projects.

As the leading source of bank finance for Trans-European Networks, the EIB devotes a large chunk of its lending to rail transport. It has provided more than EUR 21 billion over the past ten years, especially for high-speed rail services in France, Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Spain. To date, the EIB has committed EUR 605 million to the Champagne-Ardenne, Alsace and Lorraine Regions, the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin departments as well as RFF (Réseaux Ferrés de France) for construction of the TGV Est line, which will reduce journey times from Reims and Châlons to Paris to 45 minutes and 55 minutes respectively by 2007.