Humiliation for rail operator that spent millions on the wrong trains

Rail operator buys trains that are too tall for the tunnels

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France Transport Strike

French rail operator, SNCF, has spent millions on new trains. Unfortunately, nobody thought to check their height, and it turns out that on international journeys to Italy, these trains are going to be too tall to go through Italian tunnels. They may be high-speed, but passengers are going to waste valuable time at the Italian border, where they all have to get off the train and transfer into a smaller one, according to the Nice Matin newspaper.

It's part of a €15 billion revamp of the regional express trains, which according to the Daily Mail has suffered a number of blunders. In May it emerged that the trains were too wide for many platforms, so the firm had to spend a small fortune knocking off the edges of the platforms at 1,300 railways stations. The train operator is now expected to have to go through a similar process, knocking a few millimetres off the tunnels too.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the width problem came about when the track owner gave the SNFC the wrong measurements. It provided the measurements for platforms built in the previous 30 years - forgetting that many of the older ones were wider. It's not known where the tunnel problem originated.

Great engineering blunders

The French transport minister described the situation as "comically tragic". However, the train operator can take some comfort from the fact that this isn't the first embarrassing miscalculation to heap humiliation onto a company. Here are five of the most shaming.

1. The Mars Orbiter
This was supposed to be the first interplanetary weather satellite, but it ran into problems after the NASA team used metric units and one of its contractors used imperial ones. As a result the probe got so close to Mars that it's thought to have been destroyed by the planet's atmosphere.

2. The Laufenburg bridge
Different countries have different ways of calculating 'sea level', so when the bridge was built between Switzerland and Germany in 2003, the engineers knew they needed to account for the 27 cm difference in how the countries measured sea level. Unfortunately instead of cancelling it, their calculations doubled it, so one side was more than half a metre too high - and had to be lowered before the two sides could be connected.

3. The Millennium bridge
The designers of the bridge forgot to account for the 'synchronised footfall' effect of people crossing it - this effect means that as a bridge starts to sway, people will adjust their footsteps to the rhythm of the bridge's movements - making the bounce a whole lot worse. When it first opened to mark the new Millennium in 2000, the bridge was considered dangerous, so it was shut for shock absorbers to be applied, and didn't open again until 2002.

4. The 'Walkie Talkie' skyscraper
In 2013, one man parked his Jaguar on Eastcheap in the City of London, near the new 'walkie talkie' skyscraper. Two hours later he returned to find that parts of his car had been melted by sunlight reflecting off the building. The developers had to install a sunshade - and compensate anyone whose vehicles were damaged as a result of the building design.

5. The Hubble telescope
The first pictures sent back by the multimillion dollar NASA space telescope were fuzzy, because the mirror was marginally too flat - by about the thickness of a human hair. One theory was that a tiny blob of paint on the device being used to measure the thickness meant that the measurements were wrong. It took three years for scientists to work out how to cancel out the effects of this error.

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France Spends Tens of Billions of Dollars on Trains That Are Too Wide