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What Was the Most Costly Public Transportation Blunder?

The good news for riders of France’s regional express trains: An entire fleet of 2,000 state-of-the-art trains was ordered in 2014 at a cost of €15 billion ($17.7 billion USD). The bad news is that the new trains were too wide for 1,300 of the country’s older railway stations. This means that the state-controlled rail operator SNCF will spend at least €50 million (more than $58 million USD) retrofitting stations that were built more than 50 years ago, when trains were slimmer.

When a few centimeters matter:

  • Apparently, measurements were taken from modern stations in the network. The purchase of the new trains was intended to handle an expected 40 percent increase in passengers over the next 10 years.
  • Using data that erroneously stated that station widths varied by around 3.9 inches (10 cm), SNCF concluded that the new trains could be 7.8 inches (20 cm) wider than their predecessors.
  • Some platforms are too close to the tracks in some stations, meaning that the platforms will have to be “shaved,” and some equipment moved. Officials admit they “discovered the problem a bit late.”
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