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Rail Travel

France - Rail Travel

The national rail service in France is SNCF and there are regional services known as TER SNCF. On each website there is a search service so you can find the route you are looking for and tickets can be easily booked online. If you want to use the fast train network in France known as TGV you must book tickets in advance as far as possible as there are no guarantees of seats being available on the day. However, pre-booking often means much cheaper fares although you cannot book more than 3 months in advance.

Tickets for train services can be bought at each train station. For many services there is no need to make a reservation. Most stations have a self service machine for purchasing tickets (billets) and these have an English language function. It is essential that tickets are stamped before you go onto the platform. There are machines at the entrances to the platforms which are marked ‘compostez votre billet’ and you can be fined if you do not have the ticket stamped.

TGV is the abbreviation for the high speed trains (trains à grande vitesse) which can run at almost 200 miles per hour. Routes run from Paris to nearly all the major cities in the country. All the trains are non-smoking and are designed for easy access for those who are mobility impaired. Travellers can purchase a first class ticket which gives you a seat with a table suitable for using a laptop or enjoying a meal, power points and an area where you can make a private phone call. Second class tickets give you tables for laptops although power points are not normally installed in second class. All the long distance TGVs have a cafe-bar where you can get a variety of drinks and snacks.

Overnight trains are popular with travellers who need to travel a long distance but are not worried about the speed of the train. The trains are known as ‘lunea’ and have bunks in compartments that have 4 berths in first class and 6 in second class. There are no longer 1 or 2 berth compartments available although if there is availability you are able to book a 4 berth compartment for yourself.

Language is not normally a barrier when travelling on French trains. Most signs at stations are in English as well as French. There are no limits placed on luggage and you do not need to stow them in a guards van, as there are places on each carriage for large pieces of luggage. There are left luggage offices at all major train stations where you can pay for storage by the hour. All luggage is x-rayed before being accepted. If you need to take a bicycle with you when you travel on a French train it will not cost you any extra if you are on a regional train, but for overnight and long-distance travel you will need to pay a small fee. If you are travelling with a pet this is not a problem, but there may be a charge on some routes.

Paris has an underground system known as the ‘metro’. There are 14 lines and 380 stations on the underground system. Tickets for the metro are white and are produced by the local transportation authority RATP. Books of 10 tickets (carnet) can be purchased at any ticket window or from one of the many vending machines. You can use a single ticket to travel from any station on the network to any of the other stations. These tickets can also be used on buses. When you stamp the ticket at one of the ‘composter votre billet’ machines it is then valid for 90 minutes and in that time you can use it to travel on the metro and a bus as well if you need to. It should be noted that if you purchase a ticket on a bus it is not valid for the metro.

There are also a number of other money saving options such as the ‘Paris Visite’ which is a tourist pass for a set number of days. These cover specific ‘zones’ of the city. Another option is the Mobilis pass which is valid for just one day. The ‘Navigo Decouverte’ is a pass that works electronically. It is a photo card and funds are loaded on the card for when you need to use them. These are valid for up to 10 years.

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