The European Investment Bank (EIB) announces a EUR 200 million loan to French national railway company Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) for purchasing 18 Duplex (double-deck) trainsets. Their entry into service will help to absorb the continual increase in traffic on the high-speed (TGV) rail network. This project represents the second phase of a vast SNCF programme to expand its TGV fleet following a previous operation in 2002 when SNCF acquired 22 Duplex trainsets, which are now in use.

The new rolling stock will be deployed on the Paris-Mediterranean line, especially the highly congested Paris-Marseilles section. The Duplex trainsets boast a passenger capacity up to 40% higher than standard trains, depending on the layout of seating, and also have the advantage of being considerably less noisy. The existing rolling stock freed up in the process will be used on other lines, particularly the TGV Est européen. The project will thus boost passenger rail transport capacity on the TGV networks in France and - indirectly - Europe as a whole. It will also contribute to meeting the rolling stock requirements of a rapidly expanding TGV system.

At the signing ceremony for the finance agreements between SNCF and the EIB on 7 October 2004 in Paris, Mr Philippe de Fontaine Vive, EIB Vice-President, stressed the importance "of the EIB's enduring partnership with SNCF in the constantly changing rail sector".

Having contributed towards financing the first part of the programme with a loan of EUR 200 million in 2002, this signature represents the logical continuation of the EIB's firm commitment to the rail sector in France. In conjunction with SNCF and RFF (Réseaux Ferrés de France), the EIB has funded the creation of the TGV Atlantique, the TGV Nord-Europe and the TGV Méditerranée with loans of EUR 340 million, EUR 886 million and EUR 618 million respectively. More recently, the EIB has provided EUR 605 million for the construction of the TGV Est within an anticipated overall package of EUR 830 million (i.e. approximately 30% of the total project cost).

This new loan confirms the EIB's support for the development of Trans-European Transport Networks (TENs), especially railways. It is in line with the proactive policy adopted by the EU in its bid to enhance the attractiveness of rail transport as an alternative to roads, thus helping to reduce road accidents and environmental pollution, and reconcile ever-increasing growth in travel demand with the constraints of sustainable development.

The EIB vastly scaled up its TENs lending after the Essen European Council (in December 1994), which identified the priority trans-European transport, energy and telecommunications networks and called for their extension to Europe's neighbouring regions.

Since 1993, the EIB has advanced loans totalling EUR 87 billion for TENs, of which EUR 61 billion for transport networks (including EUR 16.7 billion for rail links). The EIB's contribution to financing high-speed lines (LGV) in Europe now runs to EUR 11.6 billion. It has assisted the creation of high-speed networks in Italy (EUR 3.6 billion), Belgium (EUR 1.6 billion), Spain (EUR 1.6 billion), the United Kingdom (EUR 965 million), Germany (EUR 800 million) and the Netherlands (EUR 400 million).

As the leading source of bank finance for major European networks, the EIB commands the financial clout to mobilise, in the very long term, huge sums on conditions tailored to the scale of the projects concerned.