Paris (AFP)

Is the train less safe than the plane? Unlike the airlines, the SNCF is currently forced to sell only one seat out of two to comply with the rules of distancing, while according to its leaders, wearing a mask should be enough.

"We have deployed a whole arsenal of measures which makes the train safe," guaranteed SNCF CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou on Wednesday at the National Assembly.

"Switzerland, Germany and roughly the countries of the North have developed their health doctrine by saying that as soon as the wearing of the mask was respected and that the hydroalcoholic gel was easily accessible in transport, one could admit a sort of flexibility compared to distancing, "he observed.

"In practice, this means that all seats can be occupied."

"For the moment, the health situation in our country does not allow it," he continued diplomatically. "But it is sure that it is an important element which would allow us, as it seems to be taking shape in the air, to return to a little more important occupation of our trains".

The business is important for SNCF, which loses money if its TGVs are only half full.

This organization of deconfinement in transport "is manifest in a difference in treatment between the train and the plane", denounces Agathe Bounfour, transport manager at the Climate Action Network (RAC), which federates around thirty associations.

SNCF would therefore suffer from being in a monopoly situation. Secretary of State for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari explained that Air France could not give up selling the middle seat if the German Lufthansa, for example, is authorized to do so.

The TGVs are permanently ventilated thanks to an "ultra-powerful" system which makes it possible to filter the air in cars every three minutes and to completely renew it every nine minutes with outside air, we explain to SNCF.

- Vertical ventilation -

"All the doctors tell us that there is no risk of taking the TGV", told AFP Christophe Fanichet, the CEO of SNCF Voyageurs, for whom this filtering system "is the equivalent of a surgical mask ".

"If the air intake is done outside, like on a TGV for example, the risk is almost zero", confirmed on RMC Daniel Camus, infectiologist at the Institut Pasteur in Lille.

On board all the other trains, in particular the Intercités, ventilation is by a permanent supply of outside air, all of the inside air being renewed every six minutes approximately.

In addition, we note at the SNCF, the vertical ventilation of the air is done indirectly, which prevents the dispersion of the postillions from one traveler to another.

In Airbus and Boeing airplanes, half of the air in the cabin comes from outside and the rest is taken from the cabin air and recycled through filters capable of stopping 99.97% of particles , including viruses the size of the coronavirus. This range of filters is also used in clean rooms or in operating theaters in hospitals.

"To precisely avoid longitudinal or lateral air circulation, it is caught from below, goes to the filters, it is filtered and mixed with the outside air and returns from above. The air circulates on the plane from top to bottom. The passenger in row 1 will not contaminate that in row 20 ", explains an industrial source.

The complete renewal of cabin air takes 1 minute 30 minutes for medium-haul to 4 minutes for an A380.

When you think of an airplane, "you have the image of a closed metal tube where you walk very high and where it is probably the worst place to be contaminated. The reality is that it is exactly the opposite ", summarizes the industrial source, for whom" it is not so much the plane which is a vector of contamination as the question of knowing whether the people who take the plane and go from one country to another have possibly been contaminated ".

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