“ SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) (French National Railway Company) is a major French public enterprise. Its functions include operation of rail services for passengers and freight, and maintenance of rail infrastructure owned by RFF (Réseau Ferré de France). It employs about 180,000 people. The rail network consists of about 32,000 km of route, of which 1,500 km is high-speed line and 14,500 km is electrified. About 14,000 trains are operated daily. The chairman of SNCF is Anne Marie Idrac. Its headquarters is in Paris, in the Rue du Commandant Mouchotte. „
Someone once told me that, no matter how overrated many French products and things can sometimes be.....(no offense to any of the French happening to read this right now =), they do have amazing Transportation systems. Whomever told me this, I can't remember anymore. I would love to tell that guy/girl though that.....he/she is .......deluded.
What they were especially deluded about is the TRAIN system. Primarily the "SCNF" or "Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais". Here are the top 5 reasons the SCNF should be called the "System Can Not Function".
5.) The Stations Aren't User Friendly:
When I say they aren't user friendly, I mean......they're freaking confusing. I speak French. It's not the language barrier. It's the convuluted maps and the unfriendly ticketing agents that take you in the wrong directions. The signs in various towns, point you to the SNCF yet, they don't all the time take you to it. Once at the train station, when you finally do figure out the line you need to be on , etc... the station that you get off at has the minimal amount of signs needed. Then, after following the signs to get to the NEXT line, that line happens to be "on strike" (we'll go into the Strikes wayyyy down this top 10). So, you just have to "figure out" an alternate route "somehow".
I would imagine that if they had a university course just on the SNCF, it would probably take you a good 4 yr Bachelors degree, to learn that Train System front to back.
4.) Locations of the SNCF Stations:
Poissy, Plasir, Versailles, Chantiers, Rambouillet, Dreux, La Defense, Montpanarse.....All these places are well known city slash towns in "Ils De France" which is Paris and the area (suburbs) surrounding Paris. It sounds like great places to have the stations, and they are, only.....they are not in the OTHER towns and villages near the major towns. Example:
I lived in Les Mesnuls for a year. This is a good size village and is about 10 miles away from Plasir and and 15 miles away from Poissy. In order to get to the train station in one of these towns, you have to take the bus in Les Mesnuls to Montfort L'Amory. Then, another bus from Montfort to St. Quintian. Then , the train from St. Quintain (which isn't an SCNF train, but more like a "into major cities" type train system), to Poissy or Plasir. Confusing huh? Why do you have to take a train to get to another train to get to where you want to go?
It's just a very convuluted placement of stations only in "particular" towns throughout France. It took me a litle over an hour to get to my job in Poissy, where it only takes me 15 minutes in a car. Once in Poissy, if I wanted to get go into Paris to visit friends, I took the SCNF. That usually took about an hour, and that's because, the train track goes almost in a roundabout way to Paris! You have no idea how frustrating it is!
3.) The People at The Train Stations Are Jerks (oh and everyone smells):
Maybe this is petty of me. Aren't most people at train stations jerks? Not really. Usually they're nonchalant or rude, but not out and out mean. Well, go to an SNCF , 'specially at night. You'll be pushed, pulled, prodded, spilled on, spit on, talked down to, grossed out by body odor, given stare-down dirty looks, and all other types of disgusting things people can do.
It feels like just a step above a 3rd world country as far as the liter and uncleanliness goes as well.
And, just to reiterate.....the smells are ......HORRIFIC. Can people turn into jerks simply because they don't wash? YES.....THEY CAN....It's the ultimate impoliteness to smell if you have the means to NOT SMELL. If one or two people smelled on every train I went on. That wouldn't be so much of a problem. As it turns out, around 4 out of 5 people surrounding you smelled. Which is even more than the normal public areas of France.
2.) The Cost Is Not.....Cost Effective:
Soooo you go to France thinking "oh well, I don't have to buy a car! I'll just use their public transportation systems, it'll be a LOT cheaper, right?" WRONG. When all is said and done, it will be less expensive to buy a car. Even though, saying that, the cars are still outrageously expensive, so maybe it's better to bring a car OVER from England. ( Ex. An 8 yr old Renault 206 in "decent" shape, will run you about 3000 euros.) Back to the cost's though of the SNCF.
A monthly pass for a person living in France for specific areas will run you about 150/200 Euros a Month. IF though, you go out of those specific areas you have to pay single person tickets.
Example: From Poissy to La Defense (an area right outside of the Pariphare of Paris), costs you 6 Euros ONE WAY. Yet, it's only about a 20 minute train ride with several stops inbetween. That to me seems a little....extravagant.
1.) THE.....STRIKES :
Whenever the mood "strikes" the workers of the public transportation systems in France, they will "STRIKE". Especially the SNCF. It's always such a "surprise" (not)...when they strike on a Friday or a Monday as well. Their strikes generally coincide with holidays so they can get a "free" extra day off. (Dirty isn't it?)
I guess the one thing that is somewhat "decent" that they "usually" do, is give people a one or two day warning when they ARE going to strike. That means, you have at least a small amount of time to find alternate means of transportation that day.
Let's get real here though. How completely ridiculous is frequent strinking for no reason other than getting free days off? It corruption at it's most corrupt in my opinion. What about all the days I had on my monthly pass that I couldn't use because of strikes? Do I get credit for those days I couldn't use it? Nope.
In my mind, you can cancel out the 4 other bad things about SNCF and JUST count the "strike" one as the main reason to not use this train system.
In a nutshell, If your visiting France, use this with extreme caution and only if extremely necessary (meaning...if you can't rent a car). If your living in France......buy a car ....OR if you can't, just use the Busing system. It's not as great as it should be, but it rarely goes on strike and is usually on time all the time.
SNCF is most famous for being the network that developed and deployed the TGV - the fastest traditionally railed passenger train anywhere in the world. The TGV, and its offspring Thalys (a TGV between France and the Low Countries) and Eurostar (between London and Paris and London and Brussels) are part of a wider European highspeed network that is being developed as a renaissance for the railways. The proof of its popularity can be seen in the gradual reduction in air service between key cities, such as Paris and Brussels or London and Brussels.
The TGV operates almost exclusively in a hub and spoke fashion out from Paris, so if traveling from one region to another you will often find the TGV's speed makes it quicker to go 'back' to Paris and out again.
One downside is that with every TGV route implemented the older and slower parallel lines have their passenger service suspended. This forces you onto the TGV, which saves time but also pushes the basic fare up. From major TGV hubs and stations is an impressive network of regional and local routes called 'Ter'.
Other notable trains are the excellent Corail Lunéa trains - these are older couchette trains that have been rebranded as youthful dormitory trains. There's no restaurant car or bar service - so don't be expecting an Agatha Christie style train of grand luxury - but with snazzy sleeping bags and vending machines for snacks and beverages, these are super-cheap trains for covering ground quickly. Fall asleep in Strasbourg and wake up in Marseille or Cannes for as little as Euro19 each way.
Passengers from outside France can book connecting travel on Eurostar and other international trains through travel agents or specialist rail agencies. However if you want to travel around France and take advantage of the best fares, you should get used to voyages-sncf.com - the official ticket sales site of SNCF. It's mightily confusing, especially because it also sells plane tickets and vacation packages, but there is an English language version and once you get the hang of the routes you want you can quickly find the cheapest tickets or alternative itineraries.
No cheap tickets- if you try to book the cheapest tickets, there's a "technical problem" that goes away if you switch to the more expensive ones. The agents tell you that these tickets must be ordered online.
It seems as though about 100 euro is the cut off point. So, if you're planning on traveling first class, this is the site for you, but don't assume just because there's cheaper tickets listed you can travel on a budget unless you can actually complete the order, including giving your billing information.
Most people will agree that privatisation is one of the major factors behind Britain's poor service. Now, in France, private companies have not been in charge of rail transport since 1938, and you'll really be able to see why the French want things to stay this way, if you ever set foot in an SNCF station.
SNCF stands for Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français, aka the public enterprise running all of the trains in France. It's a huge undertaking, and as such, around 180,000 people are involved in making sure everything runs smoothly. Before going to France to work for seven months, a friend of mine told me that I absolutely had to buy a magical thing called a "Carte 12-25" the second I touched down on French soil, as it would save me a small fortune. I took her advice, and thanks to the saving this magical card provided, I could afford to travel by SNCF fairly often, and as such, am writing this review with a lot of experience to back it up.
If you have a French debit card (Carte Bleue) and know where you're going, you can save time by using one of the automatic ticketing machines. However, if you have a 'foreign' card (e.g. a British one), it's not worth trying. Either your card will be unrecognised, or worse, it will get swallowed by the machine and you'll thoroughly annoy all the French people in the key behind you. On the plus side, if you can find someone to open up the machine for you, your card will be in one piece, and you will learn lots of new French swear words.
French people hate queuing, so if you have a complex query and queue up to speak to someone at one of the guichets (counters), everyone behind you will hate you. This is not important though, as they would do the same thing themselves if they needed to and in fact, are mostly quite rude people, so don't worry about it. In the large train stations, you will find English speaking staff, so this can be handy for the British traveller.
If you want to travel somewhere on a set date, but don't have to be there at a fixed time, you can ask the member of staff to look for the cheapest fare possible and advise you when's best to travel. They're very good at giving you advice on how to save money and will sometimes offer fares that you cannot buy online. (If your journey involves many changes or the train is leaving soon, the web site will refuse to sell you that ticket.)
The SNCF site itself is very easy to navigate, although most French people hate it. Most non-French people come to hate it too, but personally, I've never had a problem. Be aware that most big cities have more than one station and that TGV stations are normally in fact outside the city, so you will need connecting transport (a 'navette' - type of bus - is normally available, but do check). If you have a loyalty card (and these come automatically with the discount cards you can buy - more on them later), you will need the number on the card to claim your points ("S'miles"). Armed with that info, it's not hard to get around the site and find the best fares to suit you. The SNCF site is available in many different languages, including English. I've tested the English version for you, and it gives you pretty much the same help as the French one, so don't worry about getting ripped off.
If you'd like to collect loyalty points do, but they build up very slowly and as such, you would probably need to spend a decade in France before having enough points to travel anywhere for free!
You can reserve a train ticket way in advance without paying for it - nope, no deposit required. If you decide not to use that train journey, you don't lose any money, and I think you have up until a few days before you travel before making your mind up whether you want to keep the ticket or not and pay for it! Excellent stuff.
Now, I don't know anything about geography, so I'm going to compare two train journeys that have a similar travel time.
If I wanted to leap on a train right now from Paris and go to Lyon, it would set me back 44 as a young adult or 29.30 as a young adult with a discount card. The full price adult fare would cost 58.70.
If I wanted to leap on a train right now from London and go to Manchester, it would cost me £56.10 (no discount for being youngish!) or £37.05 with my young person's railcard.
So, both journeys take 2 hours and the adult fare is almost the same amount. Except the French price is in euros and therefore a lot cheaper. Sold yet?
Before getting on your train, il faut composter your ticket, so look for the yellow lumpy stampy machine (not the best technical description I've ever read, but you'll understand when you see one). You stick your ticket in and it date stamps your ticket, thus making it valid. If your station has many platforms and you need to take an underpass to get to the side you want, sometimes there is a yellow stampy machine in that underpass, but don't risk going all the way over and not finding one (or more annoyingly, finding a broken one): validate your ticket in the main hall.
The reason for validating your ticket, is that if it's not stamped, you can get it reimbursed, and thus you're not really travelling on a proper ticket if it's not stamped. If you get caught, you will usually get fined unless you own up to the first SNCF conductor you can track down.
There are some routes where it's unlikely you will get checked, but unless you know enough French to plead ignorance and ill fortune, it's not worth finding out which routes these are. Personally, I wouldn't even consider trying to get away without paying - without the income from all of those tickets, it's possible French trains would turn into horrid British ones!
When the SNCF staff are working, they're normally quite helpful (unless you give off the air of being really stupid, in which case they will try to get rid of you as soon as possible) and will advise you which train would be best for you to catch, where you should stand on the platform to get into the right carriage when the train comes in, how to dislodge someone from the seat you paid for during rush-hour and all sorts of other similar train questions.
If you are disabled, you will automatically get upgraded to first class, in order to fit your wheelchair onto the train. If a friend is travelling with you (even if you don't need that person's help and you've invited him or her for fun) then your friend gets upgraded too, free of charge. How's that for customer service? Pretty damn good.
One thing to bear in mind however, is that SNCF staff strike, and strike often. A strike ("une grève") can make your life hell, but usually you will have advance warning (if you read the papers). In smaller stations, staff do what they like and may well strike without any notice. You have been warned!
Whenever trains are delayed, a computer voice will announce this to you. I've only heard an announcement for a late train once, and the little computer lady was apologising profusely for a 2 minute delay. The French take punctuality seriously! In rural areas, the trains can be tiny bumpity things that make you want to die, but generally speaking, they're very swish indeed. Some trains even have special 'child carriages' which look like crèches on wheels. You can sleep quite happily on a French train and not wake up with a broken neck.
The TGV trains are very fast, and in some cases, can form a cheap alternative to flying across the country.
During the day, train stations are very efficient places and bigger city stations will even come with left luggage lockers (I think they're still all open, even in this political climate). You must pay to use a toilet, but they're normally well maintained, so at least you have that comfort (only up until about 10pm though).
At night, train stations do not become a place you want to be. Everything shuts down and the staff go home. At least in big airports like Charles de Gaulle, there is a skeleton crew on shift, in case you have any major problems. In train stations, all you have is your little mobile phone and the number '112' firmly imprinted in your head.
Thanks to a friend reading the timetables wrong, we got stranded in Gare de Lyon (one of the big Paris stations) in the wee hours of a Monday morning once, where we got mistaken for two poor Croatian girls with no money or food. This may partly have been due to us wearing an odd mixture of clothes retrieved from our suitcases because it was absolutely freezing (this was February) and the fact we were refusing to speak in French, in the hopes people would lose interest in us and go away. A man from Serbia, I think it was, offered to buy my friend off me so I could have money to use a vending machine and get food out.
Tempted as I was, my friend objected! Funny, that! Anyway, the bottom line is: do not stay overnight in a train station if you're stuck with a huge gap until the next train. Check yourself into a hotel somewhere!
SNCF FOR THE 12-25S
Until you hit the grand old age of 26, you're not a 'proper' adult in France, so you benefit from cheap train travel and housing benefits. Now, if you're only visiting France, the only part that will interest you is the cheap train travel, so let me fill you in on that.
For a bargain price of 49, you can pick up a Carte 12-25 from any train station in France and save up to 50% off train fares in Période Bleue. I suppose the best way to describe this is as a sort of off-peak period. The discount applies to pretty much all of the trains out there, but when more than 50% of the total tickets available for that train sell out, you only get the discount that you would get for Période Blanche (busy period; rush-hours, etc).
Whenever you don't get the 50% discount (e.g. during Période Blanche), you do get a 25% discount instead. This is guaranteed. However, you might like to bear in mind that 'young adults' (e.g. up to 25 years old) do get a 25% discount anyway just because of their age.
SNCF FOR THE 26-59S
If you're 26 over over, hard luck, because in France you won't get any of the good discounts again until you turn 60. There is a discount card available for you to buy, called Carte Escapades, and it will set you back a nice 85. Like with the Carte 12-25, you are always guaranteed at least 25% off your train tickets and this is more useful for you, because you don't get any automatic discounts. Without this card, you pay full whack.
On most journeys during Période Bleue (the less busy period), you will get 30% off, and sometimes with the TGV trains and other nice looking trains, you will get up to 40% off. If you're planning on a long stay in France with a fair bit of travelling (let's say at least 3 to 4 weeks), then this card could come in handy.
SNCF FOR THE OVER 60S
For those who are over 60 and want to travel around France, the Carte Senior is available. As with everything else, there is a limited number of tickets available for the cheaper tariffs, but you will always get at least 25% off, and in most cases, 50%. The Carte Senior is almost identical to the Carte 12-25 in advantages and costs 53 - a mere few euros more. Definitely worth getting if you want to see a bit of France.
As an older traveller, you can play the 'age' card and access other services created with you in mind. SNCF run a door-to-door service in mainland France, to help get your bags from where you're staying to where you're going. The 24 hour promise does not apply on the weekends or on public holidays but it's useful for weekday travel as you won't have to lug your bags everywhere yourself. It costs 25 for the first piece of luggage and there are reductions for each subsequent piece. You can reserve this service when you buy your train ticket from the guichet (I don't think it's available online, sorry) or by calling 3635 from France, saying "Bagages" or pressing "41".
In many towns you can request someone to come collect you from the place you're staying, to the train station and make sure you get onto the right carriage. You don't need to have any special card; you just need to be over 60. For more information, call 3635 from France, then press #66 and say "LISA". You must reserve this service at least a week in advance and I think there is a fee for the service, but I couldn't find details of this anywhere. If you're a nervous traveller or would just appreciate a bit of extra help, it may be worth looking into.
SNCF FOR THE KIDS
Got kids? The Carte Enfant + is designed for people travelling with a child aged under 12 years old. Up to 4 people (a mixture of adults and children) along with the first under-12-year-old can travel on this card. You don't actually need any legal ties to the child named on the card - so you can can take a friend's child out if you know someone in desperate need of a little break from the little nightmare!;)
Right, now this is a wee bit more complicated than the other cards, so I'll try and explain it as best I can. All children under 12 travelling on the card pay half the adult price. If the named child is under 3, then that child travels completely free of charge. For all the other people travelling on the card, a minimum reduction of 25% is available, but can go up to 50% in Période Bleue (the cheap period).
The card costs 68, which isn't bad at all if you consider how many people get to save money on it! But you will need a small child to travel with you, or it's not valid.
SNCF FOR FREQUENT TRAVELLERS
If you catch the train regularly, you can buy a subscription that lasts between one week and one year. Walk into the train station ask about the "Abonnement Forfait" or "Abonnement Fréquence". You can save up to 50% on your regular journey, but I haven't gone into any detail here, as it's probably more suitable for commuters going to and from work at set times, rather than UK Dooyooers popping across to France on a jolly.
If your only experience of train is in the UK, France will blow you away. The trains are built better, they're faster and they run on time. Strikes do happen regularly, but in between, the service is amazing and the train tickets themselves, don't exactly cost a fortune. If you're prepared to book way in advance, you can even buy a special ultra-cheap ticket called a Prem, although this is 100% completely non-refundable if you don't use it.
I do really miss French trains; they're much better than this GNER rubbish we have over here!
Thanks for reading:)
During my time in France, I have many times booked online to travel to other parts of France by train. Living in a rural area, it was interesting that SNCF (which actually stands for National Society of Iron Roads) even serve smaller communities in France, and what they do is have a network of coaches that link small towns like the one in which I live to mainline stations, so that the whole of France is adequately served by the railway network.
STARTING OUT THE SEARCH FOR THE RIGHT SERVICE.
SNCF now have a superb website, and compared with other French companies, they really have worked hard on their website search facility. You are welcomed on their site with a good system of weeding out the voyage that you want, i.e. chosing the faster TGV trains with fewer stops, price differences between different days, and here you really can save a fortune. It also shows the different routes and gives you the choice. Incidentally ticket offices do that as well, trying to give the passenger the best value instead of the quickest ticket. The staff are very aware that travellers want value. Beware if you smoke as there are no longer smokers compartments in French trains.
What I like about France in general applies to SNCF too because in general the people are generous to a tee, and SNCF do not just accept the dates you put into the computer, they tell you online how you can get a cheaper voyage, simply by varying your leaving or arrival time. When you search, they give a list of alternatives and the price difference between what you searched for and the choice available can sometimes mean a lot of money, so they are actually client friendly and try to find you the best deal.
Having established what train journey you want, booking is easy and you are given information in email form with your reservation number, and tickets follow by post or can be collected at the station of departure if the time is too short to send you your ticket.
THE TGV EXPERIENCE
The first time that I travelled through France by train, I was a nervous traveller with no idea what to expect. I was handed my ticket and told which quai to wait in and didn't really understand what they were talking about so asked another traveller.
I was amazed. You have the number of the carriage marked clearly on your ticket and above the platform, there are boards with numbers of carriages, and I could not believe that every train in every station across France could be so efficient that the train stops at exactly the right place to match the boards, but believe me it does.
If you wait in the appropriate quai, you actually have your given carriage stop directly in front of you and there is no searching, no rummaging through corridors to find your seat as I have experienced in many other countries. Also be aware that arriving on time is important so that you can find your appropriate place on the quai, because if you are late, as I was once, you can get onto the wrong end of a train that splits during the journey. This was rectified by moving to the correct carriage during a stopover, but caused me problems that need not have been there had I arrived on time.
The first time that I travelled on the TGV, I thought that it would be a very smooth ride. The TGV is the high speed train service that covers the length and breadth of France. The seating is organised in such a way that your seat is clearly marked. There is adequate baggage room above the seats in each coach and legroom gave me no reason to complain.
The motion of the train was different to anything I have experienced before. Instead of gliding over the rails as I thought the TGV would, this is a super fast mode of travel and the train seems to sway from side to side, not uncomfortably so, although it is a little difficult when you are balancing a cup of coffee in the buffet car !
When booking your train, the site tells you if your particular train has a buffet. The buffet offers a range of food which is a little limited, although adequate to suit most tastes, from toasted sandwiches (croque monsieurs), to baguettes with ham or cheese and salad fillings, or something that I found amusing. These were sandwiches as we know them in England and are simply called "clubs" (as in club sandwiches in the states I guess). The prices were reasonable and they had not done the thing that British rail have, i.e. make the food an expensive part of the journey.
Coffee was available or hot chocolate at normal high street prices, and you could chose from the range of desserts, and biscuits, and all in all I believe that the range they offered was satisfactory for a journey.
SNCF do make allowance for disabled travellers in that they have lifts for wheelchairs and wide entrances to carriages, although movement within the train itself would be difficult, not because of SNCF themselves, but because of the thoughtlessness of customers that put their baggage in the aisle.
Now here we find the huge difference between British Rail and SNCF. The trains seem to be always on time, or at least if any catastrophe has happened and there is a reason why the train is delayed, a board shows quite clearly the reason so that passengers are not left wondering.
My experience of SNCF is that they are efficient, that they do care about their clients, and that they offer an economical form of transport. The carriages are clean, the food tasty, and there is something kind of relaxing about travelling through France by train, leaving the worries of the world behind you, and watching the countryside pass. Even at the speed of the TGV, the sights that you see are an experience in themselves.
The night carriages on the SNCF to my knowledge and little experience (i.e. one journey), are very good. The berth that you get is adequate and somehow that swaying that i mentioned earlier seems to rock you to sleep. The blankets and sheets were clean and fresh smelling and the toilet facilities were better than average French high street ones.
I believe that British rail should take heed of customer complaints, and take an example from the service offered by SNCF which is the best I have ever travelled on in the world.
Incidentally, they are offering special deals to England at the moment on Eurostar for as little as £25 return which is pretty amazing, plus their links with towns all over France at affordable prices makes travel with them a good option when compared with the cost of petrol and the tiredness encountered at the end of a car journey. My trip to Toulouse in three weeks time takes me from one end of France to the other for as little as 70 GBP return which is pretty amazing when you cost the petrol it would have taken plus the toll roads. My car journey would have cost double, and I would not have been able to relax as I will on the train, watching the countryside go by and being able to sit back and let the train do the work for me. I usually arrive tired from the journey though the train seems a better alternative all round.
If you want to experience the France experience and travel independently, then book online with SNCF.com and enjoy all that this country has to offer, though more especially the treatment you will receive from a train company that has not forgotten that it is customers that make a railway successful.
Thankyou for reading.
Snail-paced this is not!
The British railways remain the subject of cynical moaning, a deflating energy-sapping experience for many commuters throughout the country.
I don't think the British railways are as bad as the negative press would have you believe. I use the train maybe once per month, and never have a problem. I can get from Birmingham to London in a good time, and there are plenty of internet offers which allow me to get an advance ticket cheaply.
So, Network Rail and the British train companies are pretty good.
But the French state owned SNCF is....
...Well, just... Better!
In fact, the French boast the best railway in Europe, and much of the network is covered by TGV (Trains Grande Vitesse) high speed trains, capable of eating 200 miles in an hour.
Yep, these are comfortable, quiet and safe trains that travel at incredible speed. Expensive to use they may be, but they do compete very well with travelling by air.
I needed to travel from Paris to Poitiers (in the western central area), so I had a look a the SNCF website.
The site is very well laid out, with a choice of European languages, marked with flags on the home page.
Booking is straightforward, and the site will display all the options available, and allow for personal preferences. Don't worry if you are unsure about your Paris departure... Instead of typing "Gare de Nord", "Austerlitz" or "Montparnasse", just enter "Paris", and it will work it out for you!
After the initial search, you will need to select an outward train.
They are all listed, and you can rank them by departure time, cost, duration etc. TGV trains are marked clearly, as are other 'slower' services.
Icons showing a wine glass are always welcome in my book, so I was pleased to see a speedy TGV train with bar leaving at lunch time on my desired day!
The outward was about EUR75, but this was somewhat of a last minute situation. You can view cheaper fares, and they all clearly state the terms and conditions of the specific fare.
So, having selected my train, I could then opt for my preferences, and was pleasantly pleased to find I could opt for a smoking seat!
Yep, in Britain my Marlboro habit is the scourge of society, and I am fast getting banned from lighting up wherever I go. But those good ol' European sorts still make us smokers welcome on their trains!
Having committed to my outward train, I then repeated the proceedure to select a return to Paris a few days later.
From there on, its the usual questions about your address, credit card number and how you want to collect your tickets. I chose to collect my ticket on departure from an ATM in Paris Montparnasse station.
If you go for this option, don't forget to bring the same credit card with you on the day, then a simple swipe, tap in a unique code (You will have received this by email) and the ATM spits out your tickets.
Final tip; Allow yourself good time to board. The doors are sealed, and platform barriers go down with military precision!
On board, you will find its a very comfortable ride. Please do your bit for Anglo-French relations by observing the mobile phone signs. I am sure most people who read this are pretty considerate to others anyway!
As for the buffet car, well its a similar story to the ones that I feel compelled to on Virgin trains. Sandwiches are nothing special and overpriced, and the microwavable burger in a cardboard box is only satisfying after 6 bottles of Heineken.
Unlike British trains though, the smooth ride means you can walk back to your seat without bouncing left and right off other passengers, stumbling with the train movements as you try to keep the coffee upright!
So, the scenery whizzes past and you can not pick out the gantries such is the speed at which you are travelling. The seat reclines a bit, and the windows have curtains in case you need to sleep, but don't get into too deep a sleep..... You'll soon be there!
Snail paced this is not..... besides, snails are on tonight's menu!
I was using the TGV as a quick method of getting Marseille to Lille in just a few hours, without having to fly. From Lille I would change to Eurostar (see my op 'Why We're Going Off Eurostar') and from London I would change to GNER to Newcastle (see my forthcoming op) The options of getting to the south of France without driving are; flying, getting the 'Motorail' (sleeping on a train with uncomfortable beds while it cruises up France) or theTGV. With flying you have to check in at the Airport spend a couple of hours waiting and then have to endure a flight, plus I hate flying. On Motorail you have to sleep overnight (time wasting), but with the TGV you just need to have a ticket ready, step onboard and off you go, speeding through France on one of the fastest trains in the world. - TGV Background Information - TGV is basically a high-speed rail network set up by the French national rail company S.N.C.F. At the moment it only operates in France but SNCF hope to have it in Italy, Belgium, Holland and other European countries by 2020. There are 2 types of TGV trains. The original 80s' trains, with their square and blocky interiors that inspired the interiors of Eurostar trains, and the new, double-decker trains. The trains are also extremely fast. They have their own purpose built lines to carry them at fast speeds. One minute you're looking at hilltop towns in Provence, the next you're striking past the vineyards of Burgundy. The connection to Marseille St. Charles Gare only opened in 2001, so stations between Marseille and Euro Disney are all modern and flash looking. - My TGV Experience - Boarding TGV is simple. Just go to the station with your ticket (or buy one while your there) Put your ticket in this machine that clips a corner off to show you're going on a train, find the right platform, and get on. Seats are comfy and adjustable (unlike any English trains) so you can snuggle down an
d do what you like. A word of warning, though. It would be advisable to buy a baguette or something at the station, because from the small selection of sandwiches and snacks they are supposed to have, they frequently only have a few items, and it's drab and tasteless anyway. You should be all right with drinks though. The buffet service IS NOT service with a smile. Workers looked like they wanted to spit at you before you even say anything. A bit of disappointment considering everything else is top-notch. Trains don't stop in stations for very long so make sure when you're getting on/off you have all luggage and the correct people with you. All TGV stations have lifts to street-level, so if you have disabled people or heavy luggage, you should be OK there. - Conclusion - TGV is much better than anything Britain has to other, including Eurostar. This is because there is a lot of funding going into improving all French lines to high-speed links. So if you're in France and want to get somewhere fast - use the TGV!
SNCF really do show railways around the world the benchmark they have to aim for. I have never had a problem with SNCF, usually on time (except for one journey). I usually travel Paris-Brittany and the service is always on time, the trains clean and staff helpful and PROUD to work for the company. I was let down by rail Europe in London (SNCF's agent in the UK). They lost my tickets. So there I was about to fly to Paris to connect with a train with no ticket. I e-mailed SNCF, and they replied in ten minutes in English (I had written in French) to tell me to go to the SNCF station at Charles de Gaulle airport, give out my reservation number, together with ID and they would give me my ticket. No problem. I did what they said and everything happened as they said it would. Imagine that in England! The one time my train/s were late was when I travelled Prades-Perpignan-Narbonne-Toulouse-Bordeaux-Nantes-Rennes. All these were connections too. From Narbonne the trains were late, and I was worried as I had connections from one town to the other. If I missed any connection I would be scampered and never get to Brittany. But SNCF held up every train so that people didn't miss their connections. Now I remember the old British Rail doing that when I was a young boy. No more! SNCF shows that transport really is the realm of the public sector. It is interesting to note that that Welsh Assembly is looking at the subject. They have successfully got the Regulator to agree to one single franchise for the whole of Wales and the borders. Now some AMs in Cardiff are saying they want the Assembly to take control of the railways of the new franchise. Seems logical to me. Of course, I am well aware that SNCF receives huge amounts from the taxpayer, but then the UK taxpayer is now bailing out the ‘private’ railways of the UK. One reason cited for nationalization after World War 2 was that the rail companies were bankrupt. <
I was surprised to read that all peaople was satisfact of SNCF... I know advantages of the nationalisation, more security, good service (not best), we can go everywhere, the TGV are very comfortable (in 1th class, the 2th is too little), the price is vrey good ( i have a card of reduction for less 25 years, and i can have 50 % of reduction)... But there is big problem... The workers of SNCF hve a lot of avantage, they can't lose their job, they have a lot of recuction, they stop to work at 55 years... but they are NEVER HAPPY! So they often stop to work, no train, no possibility to come back home for passagers... The service is good, but not really best, the food in train is very expensive by exemple, the train not start at the good time... and when it's hollidays! whao! don't take train! they can't support when there is too much passagers! I don't know how is in UK, but in France there is a lot of difficulties... So be carefull when you come here, don't stand only SNCF, but assure you there is other possibilities... I want to tell you too, that if you have less 25 years you can have one reduction card, you paid this 270 FF for one year. If you travel often, it's the best, you can have 50%, or 25% (if there isn't place in 50%).
SNCF, La Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer (‘National Society of the Railways’ for non-French speakers), is the name given for the train network in France. Unlike the ridiculous system in Britain, SNCF is nationalised, so provides rail services for the entire country. Whether it is the nationalisation, or just the way in which SNCF is run, the train network in France is fantastic. Without doubt I can say that it certainly fulfils its aim stated on its website (www.sncf.com - it helpfully has an English version, just click the Union Jack in the top right hand corner): SNCF’s ambition is to become the model for public service companies in Europe. Although I have not had much experience of SNCF, only two journeys in February half term while I was staying in Lille, I feel that the high quality is sufficient to justify a glowing review. My mother, my boyfriend and I wanted to go to Paris and Amiens from Lille, so we went to the Gare Lille Flandres to book the day before. The station was huge, considering there were only 8 platforms, and modern. Compared to my hometown station, Guildford, which also has 8 platforms, this was amazing. The station concourse seemed more like an airport concourse. Buying the tickets was really easy; it was much more civilised than in England. You took a number and then waited until it was called up, and then you were able to sit down in front of the ticket salesman. The young lady that we spoke to was really nice. She understood that I was trying to practise my French, and didn’t interrupt me to speak in English when I stumbled, even though she could probably speak it fluently. She even tried her hardest to explain to me why I couldn’t get the tickets that I wanted at certain times because of them being pre-booked, and wrote me a list of trains I could get, both to Paris and Amiens. Having chosen the most suitable trains, we decided that we should book the
train for Paris then, but leave the train for Amiens until the next day, as it wasn’t necessary to book. Paying was really easy, as they accepted British credit cards. The only disadvantage was that it was very expensive to get from Lille to Paris, as we were booking so late. It was about £80 return for the 3 of us. The next morning we got to the station early, in case of problems. But even though we were about half an hour in advance of its departure, the train was up on the board and waiting in its platform, although it was not yet ready for boarding. We went to have a coffee in one of the cafés in the station concourse, spoilt for choice. The train we were getting was a TGV. This stands for ‘Train à Grande Vitesse’ (High Speed Train for non-French speakers) and certainly lives up to its name. Built to a similar design to the Eurostar (actually I think the Eurostar was based on TGVs), it is streamlined and very long, with very modern doors and stairs that descend when the doors open. It was announced about 15 minutes before it was due to leave, so we went to board it early. Having stamped our tickets in the machines (I am still not quite sure what the point in these are), we found our seats easily. Although we were travelling Second Class, the seats were more like the First Class seats of British trains, very comfortable and very spacious. There was an optional table that could be pulled out, and automatic doors throughout the train. The toilets were clean and a lot more spacious that the British ones, they actually had toilet paper and soap, could be locked, and were relatively clean, unlike the traditional stereotype of French toilets! The train moved at a phenomenal speed, approximately 200 miles an hour, I should think, and we covered a distance of what must be like London to Newcastle in exactly an hour. It amazed me how the trains were so punctual and accurately timed. We left
dead on the time that the train was scheduled to leave, and arrived dead on the time that it was scheduled to arrive, despite the distance. I have never made such a long journey in England where the train has been less than half an hour delayed. The way back from Paris was brilliant as well, similar to the way there, and again it was punctual. Unfortunately I fell asleep on the way back, after a long day’s sightseeing, so I can’t comment much on the service, but there weren’t any problems as far as I know. The next day we again got up early to get another train, this time to Amiens, a small town famous for its cathedral, in the same region as Lille (Nord-Pas-De-Calais). Again, buying tickets was easy, and I was thoroughly impressed by the service. The ticket salesman even managed to cope with my concern over why the train to Amiens wasn’t displayed, but it was because I was looking at the Arrivals board, not the Departures! (Understandable, we don’t have such technicalities in Britain!) This time, the train was a TER (Train Express Régional), which provides local services, rather than long distance travel. These trains are more similar in style to the British old style ones (e.g. South West Trains falling apart ones), except that the one that we got to Amiens in the morning had two floors, like double-decker buses. This was a great excitement to me, who still gets excited by sitting right at the front of a double-decker bus (I was not 18 on Tuesday, honest! :) ), so we went to sit on the top floor despite my Mum’s vertigo. The train was much slower than the TGV, because it was less streamlined, using old tracks and was a stopping service. It travelled about a third of the distance we had gone the day before in the same time. Again, the train was clean, punctual and arrived on time. On the way there it was virtually empty (we caught it at about 7.30 to be able to get the cheap
rate), but on the way back it was very crowded as we were returning at rush hour. However, rush hour in France is not nearly as bad as rush hour in England on the trains. It was busy, yet the train was long enough to meet the demand, and everybody was able to get a seat. Many people had luggage with them though for some reason, which didn’t help. As the journey went on, people got off at each station, so the train became emptier. This doesn’t really relate to the trains, more to the behaviour of French people, but I shall mention it here anyway as this occurred on the train. FRENCH PEOPLE ARE SHAMELESS!!! (Apologies for the gross generalisation there, I normally judge people individually, but it is something that I have noticed.) On the train, when it was very busy, a young couple were sitting next to each other giggling. When I looked over, his coat was over her lap and he had his hand under it. A few minutes later, from the noises the girl was making, it became obvious to the whole compartment what they were doing, and they did not seem to care at all. Unbelievable!!! I seem to have got off the point somewhat, apologies to the young children reading that, perhaps it shouldn’t have been shared, I just found it funny. I think this would be an appropriate point to draw this lengthy opinion to a conclusion. SNCF provide a fantastic service, they actually care about their customers, and their trains are punctual, clean and safe (there have been very few, if any, major rail crashes in France in the history of SNCF). May nationalisation survive in France, so that their system is not wrecked by silly Conservative ideas as in Britain.
SNCF French railways comprise of a network of TGV high speed services, mainline and also TER local trains and the metro systems in the cities. SNCF are also co-operators of international services like Eurostar and Thalys. For this opinion I thought I'd concentrate on the 'Grande Lignes' mainline services as that's how I've travelled the most. Most of my journeys were between Paris and Reims. The first thing I noticed about the railway system is how punctual the services are. Only once in all my experience of train travel in France was the train late, and only by 5 minutes. The carriages are extremely comfortable. Each seat had plenty of leg room with big soft cushioned seats and a pull down table. There is also plenty of luggage space on the trains. The carriages seem really well maintained and have always been very clean. On some trains there is a restaurant car or a snack trolley. You can reserve a seat which is highly recommended at peak hours to avoid standing for a long time. I know people who stood all the way from Paris to Clermont-Ferrand! On TGV trains however a reservation is compulsory. Everything is really well organised on the French rail network. I found they kept passengers very well informed with both station and on board announcements. I felt using the train was hassle free and comfortable, even on a longer 4 hour trip to Nancy. Fares are generally very reasonable, with off peak time (periode bleue) being cheaper of course. If you are in France a lot and using the trains it is very worthwhile to invest in a travel card. I bought a Carte 12-25 (for that age group) for about £20 and it guarantees 25% of all fares (including Eurostar) but if used for off peak travel you can get 50% off tickets. But even on holiday it is worth asking to see if you can get a special offers. One tip for when you do have your ticket, *don't forget * to stamp it
in the orange machine before boarding the train. If you do, find an SNCF inspector on the platform and get them to stamp it for you or you could be in for a fine later. But to save missing the train altogether it's better to look for the orange machine at the start of the platforms, they're pretty easy to miss some stations! SNCF also have special deals offering good reductions for holidaymakers. For example if 2 adults travel together and stay overnight they can avail of a bargain 'Decouverte' fare. All of these cards/fares are available at the ticket desks of larger stations or SNCF shops in bigger cities. You can book also online with SNCF and tickets are sent by post. (within 7 days if you are outside France) As a whole the French rail system is magnificent, it has to be one of the best in the world. They run a comprehensive service - they have everything from suburban rail to trains that will take you and your car to the south of the country! I've always enjoyed travelling by rail in France, it's one place where rail travel is - believe it or not- stress free and great value! =) Update - After another near miss at Victoria it is strange to note that Connex South Central is in fact a partly French owned company...oops!
I have worked and lived both Paris and Grenoble in France. This means when I am in one place, the chances are I want to visit people in the other. Well, I was working in Paris and made a last-minute decision to go to Grenoble for the weekend so I thought be clever and plan ahead Thursday I went to the travel agent to book a ticket for the TGV. The nice young lady behind the desk informed me the fair would be 800 Francs. At the time it was, thanks to Norman Lamont?s fiscal acumen, nearly a hundred quid! I decided to save money by flying to St. Geoirs, Grenoble?s airport. This only cost 560 Francs. The nice lady added if I had booked over 30 days in advance the fare for the TGV would be almost halved to 460 Francs. Well, I immediately booked two round-trip tickets for a month hence and for the week after that for a ten quid more than the single with no reservation would have cost. For the next few weeks I used the plane. Every two weeks later I booked another two round trip tickets for the same deal. Now I had a cheap ticket for the TGV for each weekend. All I would do then was book a ticket for a month hence at the Paris Gare de Lyon station each time I travelled out to Grenoble. They have automated ticket machines, which even speak English and take your English credit cards. They are useful for checking the timetables and checking the fares, but I would rather trust my Carte de Credit with a Frenchman rather than a machine. This way you can avoid misunderstandings and other cock-ups as you can simply confirm or change your mind easier than with the machine. The reservation system allows you to choose the carriage and seat type/number. When you get on the TGV you have the wagon or carriage and seat number on your ticket. The TGV are bright orange and can have up to twenty carriages. They have very comfortable seats, rather like those on an airplane, and they recline as well as the rear of the seat in front has a pocket for your Walkman. Th
ere is also a drink holder and table for you cans of beer. Well you?re not driving! Listen to four short albums and you are there! The route from Paris to Grenoble takes only 3 hours 11 minutes, guaranteed. The train uses the Paris-Lyon, which was the first ever, TGV route. You leave Paris at exactly, and I mean exactly, 14:30. You arrive in Grenoble bang on 17:39 after a couple of stops for Lyon and Lyon Airport after about two hours. When you arrive, it?s just a 6-minute tram ride and you are in Grenoble?s premier Irish pub ?The Shannon? with a full hour and a quarter remaining of the happy hour. You can even phone from the TGV to order you first round of drinks ? well Guinness does take a while to pour. If you are planning a twin centre visit to France, you can even use the SNCF website to order and pay for TGV tickets which will be posted to your home in the UK. You will need to pay using a credit card. Alternatively, you can pay sterling in cash but you must pick up the tickets in person from their offices in London. SNCF Website: http://voyages.sncf.fr/hs_reservation?url_action=choix_horaires_seuls_reservat ion&langue=GB London Office: RAIL EUROPE TRAVEL CENTRE 179 Picadilly LONDON WI Tel: 08 705 848 848
I have used the TGV, and on each occasion it has been brilliant, it leaves british rail light years behind. You can buy your tickets up until seconds before the train departs either at the ticket office or even better if your french isnt great, at an automatic ticket machine,you just type in where you want to go etc, and pay by credit card.. simple, and the machine even uses english. The trains are very punctual. usually leaving on the minute the timetable says .. and of course arriving at each stop the same. On some tracks the trains can do up to 300kph,but whichever track you use the TGV is mighty fast and impressive.The trains are very clean, comfortable and smooth,