28 October 2008

SNCF: 225 software engineers who don't write tests!

The biggest French e-commerce web site is http://voyages-sncf.com, they sell train tickets for the National Railway of France providing high speed train travel to Europe. It's supposed to be a public company and provide an affordable, reliable and sustainable transport public service.

In reality, the European Commission and a lot of people who fight for their private interest are trying to privatize it with marketing madness such as IDTGV: a train without driver (!!!) as they "attach" it behind another TGV train. This allow them to contract private staff and pay them less and with less social protection than scnf employees.

The same people also created an over complex pricing system that no one but computers can understand (does it remind you some financial crisis?). This complexity was denounces by a report written by a deputy in October 2008.

Despite a team of 225 people, I am kind of astonished by the poor quality of their latest site: http://www.tgv-europe.com/

This is the kind of email you receive when you order a ticket through http://www.tgv-europe.com/:

Delivered-To: anonymous@anonymous.com
Received: by with SMTP id 12cs66877fgd;
Thu, 23 Oct 2008 12:23:23 -0700 (PDT)
Received: by with SMTP id c19mr1159156eba.116.1224789802208;
Thu, 23 Oct 2008 12:23:22 -0700 (PDT)
Received: from voyages.sncf.fr (libellule.voyages-sncf.com [])
by mx.google.com with ESMTP id j8si7755870gvb.1.2008.;
Thu, 23 Oct 2008 12:23:22 -0700 (PDT)
Received-SPF: neutral (google.com: is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of reply@tgv-europe.es) client-ip=;
Authentication-Results: mx.google.com; spf=neutral (google.com: is neither permitted nor denied by best guess record for domain of reply@tgv-europe.es) smtp.mail=reply@tgv-europe.es
Date: Thu, 23 Oct 2008 21:23:21 +0200 (MEST)
Reply-To: reply@tgv-europe.es
fromUnknow sender
dateThu, Oct 23, 2008 at 7:44 PM
subjectConfirmación de su pedido

hide details Oct 23 (5 days ago)

Images are not displayed.
Display images below - Always display images from

Logo TGV Europe

Confirmación de su pedido
Bienvenido Señor XXXX

Usted ha realizado una reserva en nuestro sitio el 23/10/2008 a las 20h44 A continuación le recordamos los detalles :

Le recordamos que su equipaje debe llevar etiquetas con su nombre, apellidos y dirección.

Para garantizar las salidas TAV en las mejores condiciones, se pide en adelante al conjunto de los viajeros TAV acceder al tren como muy tarde 2 minutos antes de la hora de salida indicada en los billetes.

Llegada:LYON PART DIEU15h50

06866 - Plaza(s) sentada(s) garantizada(s)
Salida:LYON PART DIEU11h3728/12/2008

05113 - Plaza(s) sentada(s) garantizada(s)
Referencia - Nombre asociado :XYZSHIT - XXXX

El modo de retirada para este billete es: IAD_WEBEL BILLETE IMPRESO
Imprima sus billetes ahora
Usted puede imprimir posteriormente desde la página de inicio :
  • Introduzca luego GARNIER - QBJPQBto be translated
  • Haga clic en el enlace " Imprimir su billete "
  • Para más información,
    Para más información práctica sobre el billete impreso, consulte las condiciones de uso.

    Para cualquier preguntas sobre el billete impreso, escriba a :Contacto.

    TOTAL pagado 44.00€

    Le agradecemos la confianza que ha depositado en nosotros y le deseamos un buen viaje.

    ¡Visite nuestro sitio cuando lo desee!

    1. The email sender does not appear in gmail: it says "Unknown sender", they pro
    2. The link "Contacto" (Contact) redirects to an 404 page in the http://www.idtgv.com/. This sound like a copy-paste from their previous work which probably was a copy-paste from http://voyages-sncf.com
    3. The most annoying bug is not in the email but in the booking system when you buy a Return ticket. After you have selected a time for the first trip, it won't let you navigate through the different times for the return ... You can't press "back" and changing the time won't work: it keeps displaying the times for the first trip!!!! At the end, it will take you 30 minutes to buy a ticket ...
    If someone of the SNCF reads me, please simplify your system!!!! That will save a lot of time and headaches for citizens, sncf employees who sell the tickets and finally for the software engineers who don't write tests!

    At the end of the day, the European decision to push for privatization of the railways and open it to competitions in 2011 is purely dogmatic. The invisible hand of "free market" will eventually lead to the melt down of the system . Even Margaret Thatcher thought privatizing British Rail was off limits ... To be coherent, the European Commission should subsidize more the road and air transport.

    As a an evangelist of automatic unit testing and user acceptance testing, I'd love to to a bit of consulting for them in order to reduce the frustration for millions of citizens, including me.

    As an ecologist, I will swallow my frustration and take the train for traveling in Europe as I did when I went from Barcelona to Amsterdam to attend the Citcon Europe conference.