Destinations

French rail operator launches budget high-speed line out of Paris

Feb 20, 2013 6:21 am

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The additional seats and few frills will be familiar to passengers who spend time of budget airlines, but the speed and ease of high-speed rail will feel like a luxury.

— Jason Clampet

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The French national rail operator SNCF is offering a new low-cost long-distance service to passengers, in a bid to compete with budget airlines and cars.

Tickets went on sale this week for Ouigo, a train service with numerous similarities to no-frills carries such as Ryanair and easyJet.

Trains depart from Marne-la-Vallée to the east of the French capital – almost 20 miles away from central Paris, a scenario reminiscent of the budget airlines’ strategy to use airports away from city centres.

Services will connect Paris to Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier on the south coast, with tickets starting from €10/ £8.70, significantly cheaper than tickets for the normal TGV train.

There will be no compromise on speed, with the new service using the same trains as the TGV. The journey from Paris to Marseille will take three hours and 15 minutes.

As with the budget airlines, space will be tighter – there will be no first class section, nor will there be any café or bar. There will be room for around 20 per cent more passengers than on a regular TGV service.

Guillaume Pepy, the director of the SNCF, says the new rail service is mostly aimed at people living on the outskirts of Paris, who are more likely to take their car on long journeys.

However it may also be considered by British visitors on a budget. Passengers on Ouigo will, however, need to factor in other additional costs – as well as the journey from central Paris, there is a €5 charge for a second piece of luggage, use of a power point costs €2, and transporting a pet costs €30.

After the €10 starting price – for which there will be 400,000 tickets available – tickets rise to €25 and reach a maximum of €85, depending on the demand.

According to calculations published in Le Figaro, the average price for a Friday journey from Paris to Marseille booked three months in advance costs €72/ £62.50 on the TGV, €50/ £43.50 on Air France, €34.23 / £29.76 on Ryanair, and €25/ £21.73 on the Ouigo.

Three or four return journeys will operate every day, with the first services beginning on April 2.

The train service’s website is at ouigo.com/fr .

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