All on board for network development
Cultivating dialogue: a deliberate policy
For SNCF Réseau, discussion and exchange are not a necessary evil but the chance to raise rail’s profile as a dynamic and accountable partner for the regions. Specific steps have been taken to facilitate this type of interchange, for example establishment of the National Stakeholders Committee.
Since the development of high-speed lines in the 1990s, no less than 14 public hearings have been staged under the auspices of the National Public Hearings Committee (CNDP). In the process, SNCF Réseau has developed ambitious consultation policies, which are now considered one of the company’s key values.
Projects adapted to the regions
For more than 15 years, these consultation processes have been fine-tuned at SNCF Réseau so that all projects can meet the needs of the regions they impact. By making allowance for the practices and preferences of local residents, users and protagonists right from the inception and start of technical studies, their input can be fed into the process to produce better adapted and more consensual solutions.
SNCF Réseau does its utmost to keep its adverse effects on the environment to a minimum: preserving the natural landscape, biodiversity and ecological continuity, economic spinoffs, shorter trip times for passengers, noise and atmospheric pollution, etc. Its objective is to produce projects with positive fall-out well adapted to local conditions.
Open attitudes are central to project management. Whether the hearings and consultations with passengers, local residents or industry, farmers or concerned citizens are mandatory or voluntary, the objective is to give people a chance to shape project strategy, long before the start of actual work to well after its completion. Involving those directly concerned and making allowance for their ideas and objections is the best way of ensuring grassroots project ownership.
Consultation, an art in itself
Initial consultations at the very beginning of a project are the opportunity to test the waters with regard to general attitudes and overall expectations. At each key stage, special hearings are held on specific points even in the operational phase, in other words even after project commissioning.
The success of these consultations depends on delivering full and instructive information about the project to bring all participants on board. Consultations may be public debates, citizen workshops or on-line chats. All the ideas, comments, criticisms and objections voiced can then be fed into the next stages so project targets can be better aligned on local and regional expectations and contentious local issues addressed.
In addition to formal consultations, SNCF Réseau is constantly in touch with local politicians, municipal authorities and associations, as well as local residents, sounding their views about such things as lineside vegetation control.
These contacts take place outside the actual project structures and are spearheaded by a network of professionals located in the regions, who work in partnership with a variety of associations, for example:
- Since March 2017, under an Agreement with the National Federation of Hunters (FNC) over wildlife control near railway tracks
- Since 2016, under a Cooperation Agreement with the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions (FNSEA) and the Chambers of Agriculture, the aim of which is to cement good environmental mitigation practices and factor farming concerns into maintenance operations
- Since July 2009, under an Agreement with France Nature Environnement (FNE) over the protection of biodiversity and for promoting exchanges and discussions between SNCF Réseau and the front-line environment lobbies
- Regular exchanges with the association representing the “French Regions” over their common problems, particularly as regards regional network maintenance and modernisation
Cross-pollination for a more efficient, better adapted, more socially responsible network
For SNCF Réseau, transparency is the key to network development in tune with environmental and societal requirements and consistent with business and industrial needs. Not only must it cater to its clients’ requirements but it must also factor in regional agricultural, environmental, political and socio-economic considerations.
Where the very real challenge of engaging with local communities is concerned, SNCF Réseau has set itself the target of boosting the positive impact of its activities and infrastructure on the people and communities in the regions by such things as socially-inclusive procurement, recruitment of “back-to-work” candidates for its worksites, training, “green” worksites, station accessibility, and promotion of new economic, cultural or tourist activities in the vicinity of its infrastructure. These are just some of the actions already undertaken at SNCF Réseau in the interests of nationwide economic and social progress.
Points to remember
- For SNCF Réseau, discussions and exchanges with local residents, passengers, associations, politicians and other regional protagonists are a condition sine qua non for the success of its railway projects.
- While SNCF Réseau can count on a network of in-house skills and capabilities and robust tried-and-tested methods, it is always on the look-out for new and innovative ways of improving its consultation and exchange procedures.