Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Low Cost, High Speed Rail Debuts in France

In Europe, as here in the US, it's not at all odd to find airfares that are significantly more affordable than train fares on the same route. Its an odd quirk since, obviously, airplanes should be far costlier to run than trains.

Well, in France, at least, that situation is about to change. A new rail line, called (cutely enough) Ouigo is being launched on April 1 by France's national railroad monopoly SNCF and it will be charging just 10 euros for routes that normally run 60 to 80 euros. Que des économies! And that price isn't for the old, clunker engines, it's for high speed rail lines, some 62 in all across the country. The 10 euro price will hold until 400,000 seats are sold, and then rates will rise a bit. Children traveling with adults pay 5 euros on any route. A number of seats will also go for less than 25 euros, still a bargain.

There are some drawbacks to the service, foremost among them being that the rail-line doesn't go into the center of many cities, using suburban stops instead. For example, it doesn't serve Paris. Instead, would-be riders will have to trek out to the nearest Ouigo station, which is Marne-le-Valle. But that may not be a problem for everyone as it is next to French Disneyland, and a quick 30-minute RER ride from central Paris. For Lyon, passengers will be dropped at the airport station.

Drip-pricing also erases some of the sheen from this new rail line. There will be charges for extra luggage (as on many airlines you'll be allowed one suitcase and one handbag free) and for the use of electrical outlets onboard. 

A final bummer: no cafe car. That allows the rail line to add extra seats, and give these sorts of discounts. 

For complete info and to book (do it quickly as this will sell out), go to www.ouigo.com/fr.

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