TGV brings new allure to French provinces

21st September 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 21, 2006 (AFP) - In the quarter-century they have been operating, France's high-speed trains have changed the face of once-remote regions.

PARIS, Sept 21, 2006 (AFP) - In the quarter-century they have been operating, France's high-speed trains have changed the face of once-remote regions.

Once dormant towns have been infused with new life, companies have taken root, and property prices have soared on the TGV lines which have effectively shrunk much of the country to manageable commute distances.

In Lyon, France's third-biggest city located in the east, small and medium-sized businesses have flourished, in part because the 400 kilometres to the all-important capital takes less than two hours by train.

The city has also been able to turn itself into a trade show and conference destination and scooped up many of the 76 million tourists who fan out across France every year.

In the generally depressed north of France, the trains have also helped change perspectives, in conjunction with Europe's widespread open borders policy and the introduction of the euro single currency.

The region no longer feels like an abandoned former industrial wasteland, but more like a zone open to exchanges with Belgium, the Netherlands and northern Germany, as well as to the rest of France to the south.

"The north of France, which was a little closed off, has found itself completely opened to the big European capitals," said a spokesman at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce for the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region.

In Tours, part of the stately Loire Valley area south of Paris, the effect of the TGV has been less noticeable, "but it's certainly been of benefit to the city and the surrounding area," said Claude Cheron, the head of an economic monitoring institution in the city.

"You can directly attribute the arrival of companies like Bouygues Telecom or more recently Cyclopharma to it," she said.

On the popular southern high-speed line linking Paris to the Mediterranean port city of Marseille, the impact of the TGV's introduction five years ago "has gone beyond our wildest dreams," the local tourism office chief, Maxime Tissot, said.

"We've been de-ghettoised in comparison with Paris. Three hours by TGV is shorter than one hour in a plane," he said. "It's also flagrant in terms of investment, and with companies and property prices."

Urban infrastructure and tourism have also surged.

"In the beginning, there were people from Avignon (100 kilometres inland) coming for the day to swim in the sea. This year, we've been seeing Parisians doing return trips in the day to swim, eat and enjoy the sunshine," Tissot said.

Olivier Klein, a researcher at a Lyon institute that studies the economic impact of transport, said the high-speed lines have certainly acted as a fillip for many regions.

But he cautioned that it was not a panacea against downturns and economic crises, noting that the opening of a TGV station in a nearby small town of Creusot in 1980 did not prevent the closure of a metal factory there three years later.

"The TGV follows developments in society, but it's not a cause in itself. Increased mobility, for instance, is tied up with our lifestyle," he said.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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