travel in France - Tips and tickets
km of new
High Speed Rail lines will open in France in mid-2017.
182 kilometres of new dedicated line from Le Mans to Rennes
are due to open in May 2017; and almost 300 km of new HST track will
follow in June or July, from Tours to Bordeaux. High-speed lines will
then stretch all the way from Paris to Bordeaux and Paris to Rennes,
with trains running at 320 km/hr.
high-speed rail network - 2017
French railways : the
often the fastest and usually the most convenient way to get round
train - rather than flying - is the best option for anyone planning to
France without a car. With 1700 km of dedicated high-speed
lines, plus thousands more
kilometres of main line and branch line, the French rail network links
all main towns, and also extends deep into rural France. French trains
are on the whole comfortable, punctual and relatively cheap.
For more information
through France: Eurostar and the TGV
from St Pancras, the fastest journey time from London to Paris is now
just 2 hours and 15 minutes, city centre to city centre. And for anyone
boarding the Eurostar at Ebbsfleet, the new station in south east
London, the trip is even faster, from just 2 hours and 5 minutes.
In terms of speed and convenience,
has shown that on journeys of 200 miles or so, the train is far more
convenient than the plane.
The opening of a new high-speed rail
London was a novelty for Londoners in 2007; but Parisians were not
particularly impressed; after all, France has been steadily expanding
its high-speed rail network for over a quarter of a century! The first
French TGV lines were on the drawing board in the early 1970s, and the
first long-distance route, from Paris to Lyons, opened way back in 1981
But if a lot of people
that the best
way to go from London to Paris for a day's shopping or a weekend break,
is to take Eurostar, far less people realise that the extent
of the Eurostar connections at
Lille to other cities in France French high-speed rail
network means that taking the train is rapid option for
a large number of destinations in provincial France.
to provincial cities. It's easier to change at Lille than Paris.
The map above shows the extent of France's high-speed rail network
in 2015. At present, the network consists of some 1700 km (over 1000
miles) of dedicated high-speed track, comprising four routes radiating
out from Paris, and half of the "Rhine-Rhone route". However,
an "interconnection" route round the south and
west of Paris allows high-speed connections between the routes, notably
allowing north-south TGVs to avoid the centre of Paris.
Note that TGV services operate to all
the cities indicated on the map, and to many others too, since these
high speed trains can also run - at reduced speed - on the traditional
This makes the TGV
station at Lille Europe
a very handy hub for passengers coming
from the UK or Belgium and Holland.
The alternative to changing at Lille is to take
to Paris, and then travel beyond Paris from the appropriate mainline
terminus.; but this will normally involve changing
at Paris: see below.
latest new TGV lines
saw the opening of 44 km of new high-speed line across the
French-Spanish border, between Perpignan and Figueres.
saw the opening of the first 140 kilometres of
major TGV line, the "LGV Rhin-Rhône", or Rhine-Rhone High
linking Mulhouse and Dijon. This has greatly sped up rail links
between Paris and Basel and Zurich, and between Germany,
Strasbourg and the south of France.
Autumn 2013 :
Direct TGV services now operating netween Paris and Barcelona
Thanks to intelligent forward thinking, planners of the French TGV
network had the sense to connect it directly, when possible, to major
airports. Thus, there is a major TGV station right underneath Terminal
2 at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport
and there is a TGV station in the middle of the Lyon Saint Exupery
train timetables and book tickets.
Like many capital cities, Paris suffers from having no central railway
hub, but a number of mainline termini. Here are the main destinations
served from each of the principal termini: TGV services depart from the
Gare du Nord, Gare de l'Est, gare de Lyon and Gare Montparnasse.
3. France's impressive railways
- Gare du
Nord: North east France, London (Eurostar), Brussels,
Amsterdam (Thalys), Lille,
- Gare de
l'Est: Nancy, Metz, Rheims
- Gare de
Montpellier, Perpignan; Italy and the east of Spain.
d'Austerlitz: Non-TGV services to Tours, Poitiers, Limoges, Bordeaux,
Biarritz, western Spain.
Montparnasse: All western TGVs, Brittany,
Brest, Rennes, Nantes
St. Lazare Caen,
On main routes not served by
TGVs, such as
Paris-Clermont-Ferrand or Paris - Limoges - Brive, very comfortable
express trains run at speeds that can reach 200 km/hr on some
stretches. These long-distance express trains, previously known as
"corails" are now known as
French railways have a reputation for punctuality, though delays seem
slightly more common these days than in the past. Most trains however
run on time, and delays of over ten minutes are unusual. This is
doubtless one of the reasons why the French are regular rail
travellers. If a mainline train (TGV or Intercités) is over
30 minutes late
at arrival, on a journey of over 200 km., demand a late-arrival form
when you reach your destination ; in some stations, staff will hand
them out automatically. Fill this in and send it off with your ticket
in the business-reply envelope provided, and you should receive a
voucher worth 30% of the cost of your ticket.
It's not just on main lines,
rail travel in France can be a great way to travel. More and more
branch lines and feeder services are now operated with state-of-the art
and very comfortable new railcars that resemble miniature TGV's. With
massive picture windows along the sides, the experience of travelling
along some rural rail routes is rather like that of
scenic railway; and regional councils, that are now in charge of
running local rail services, seem to be competing with each
other, particularly in tourist areas, to boost their image by investing
in these very impressive new railcars. Even better, many French regions
have invested quite heavily in recent years in upgrading regional
branch lines with new track as well as new rolling stock.
France also offers plenty of
scope for rail tourism on its various scenic
There are or course other less
rides to be had on French railways. Some suburban routes and local
services on main lines are still operated using old and sometimes noisy
and uncomfortable stock - but even on such routes, this is by no means
always the case.
cost of rail travel in France:
there's the question of tickets. As a nationalised system, the French
railways used to run a clear and coherent ticketing system, and
generally speaking rail travel remains relatively cheap - about 10p a
kilometer (1.2 Euro per 10 km) for a standard second class fare. This
is more than the cost of rail travel in Spain or Italy, but far cheaper
than standard tickets in the UK. Lots of discounts can be obtained,
generally varying between 25%
In recent years, particularly on busy
routes and TGVs, the cost of tickets has begun to vary wildly in
function of the date and time of the journey; on many intercity routes,
special low-cost tickets , known as "Prems", are available to the early
birds who book well in advance. These are even available on overnight
sleepers - but not at busy times, of course.
ID-TGV - the
low-cost TGV service.
To compete with low-cost
airlines, some TGVs offer major reductions if tickets are purchased
online. ID-TGV services (sometimes complete trains, at other
times a quota of seats in a standard service) now operate from Paris to
about 20 destinations; for example, you can buy a first class ticket
from Paris to Lyon for 29 Euros on certain off-peak
compared to 56 to 66 €uros, or 114 €uros for a normal
ticket on certain trains . However, don't pay much attention to the
sites that say "Paris-Marseille" or "Paris-Montpellier" for just 19
these very low prices are indeed available, but only on about one train
a month, if that!
The best place to check ID-TGV
and book and buy tickets on line is on one of the Rail Europe / SNCF
sites (see below)
Other new ideas include an overnight TGV from Paris to Biarritz, which
comes complete with a clubbing car, for those who can't sleep on a
moving train; other destinations are being added .....
French train tickets online
All French train tickets can also be ordered online - and even printed
out on your own computer as an e-ticket, like a plane ticket.
But French Railways run three different online ticketing
services, depending on where the tickets are being purchased ! (After
all, why make things simple when you can make them complicated !) So to
buy French rail tickets online, click the link corresponding to the
country in which you want to
receive or print
Pictures: above left, a TGV at Lyons.
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