Transport

French PM to inaugurate newly resumed Paris-Nice night train service

A railwayman gives the departure signal to the last night train linking Paris and the Spanish village of Port Bou, near the French border, at Perpignan station, southern France on 9th December 2016.
A railwayman gives the departure signal to the last night train linking Paris and the Spanish village of Port Bou, near the French border, at Perpignan station, southern France on 9th December 2016. © AFP/Raymond Roig

Planned for 16 April and then postponed due to the Covid-19 health crisis, the Paris-Nice night train leaves this evening for the first time in three years, with French Prime Minister Jean Castex as an honorary passenger. The resumption of the service is part of a government push for 'greener' transport options.

Advertising

The French Prime Minister Jean Castex is due to inaugurate the night-time Intercités train at the Austerlitz station before sleeping in a first class carriage: departure at 8.52pm, arrival at 09.11am on Friday on the French Riviera. The journey will take a twelve hours, compared to less than six hours by TGV.

This launch "highlights a virtuous mode of transport that contributes to the opening up of the regions. Nice is ultra-connected for the upper classes but less so for students and others," the Prime Minister's entourage told French news agency AFP.

Tickets start at 19 euros for a reclining seat, 29 euros for a second class sleeper and 39 euros for a first class sleeper.

Massive investment in the rail sector

The Paris-Nice Intercités, which stopped its operation in December 2017 due to a lack of profitability, will connect Paris-Austerlitz and Nice-Ville every day in both directions, with six stops including Marseille, Toulon and Cannes.

With this long route in his agenda, Castex wants to highlight a "rapid concretisation of the government's recovery plan", which has earmarked 5.3 billion euros for the rail sector, including 100 million euros for night trains.

It provides 50 million for the refurbishment of 51 night carriages and another 50 million for the reception of passengers and the adaptation of workshops.

Ecological dimension

The government also wants to relaunch the Paris-Tarbes service at the end of the year.

The Prime Minister wants to emphasise the "ecological dimension" of these journeys in sleeping cars or reclining seats: the train as an alternative to the plane over these long distances.

After the Paris-Nice service, heir to the prestigious "Train Bleu" launched in 1886, was discontinued at the end of 2017, a call for expressions of interest was launched to find a buyer, but in vain.

The relaunched route could be the first of a new series of night-time lines. "My ambition is to have ten or so night trains by 2030," said transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari in January.

Series of night-time lines

There were only two night train lines left in France, from Paris to Briançon, and from Paris to Rodez, Cerbère (Pyrénées-Orientales) and Latour-de-Carol (Pyrénées-Orientales).

The carriages on these surviving lines are to be completely renovated by 2023 at a cost of 44 million euros.

A government report, published on Tuesday by the newsletter Mobilettre, proposes to articulate different night links - possibly seasonal - around the Dijon-Marseille, Bordeaux-Marseille, Paris-Toulouse and Tours-Lyon corridors, and to reach major foreign cities.

The French are looking to emulate the success of the Austrian company ÖBB, which has built up a genuine network (Vienna-Amsterdam and Munich-Rome, among others) in a "socio-cultural context favourable to the environment and action against climate change".

The plans proposed in the report include, for example, a series of services from Metz-Nancy-Strasbourg and Zurich-Geneva to Avignon, then Marseille-Nice, Perpignan-Barcelona and Toulouse-Bordeaux.

Paris-Rome night train back?

Connections from Quimper-Nantes-Lyon-Geneva, Paris-Brussels-Hamburg-Copenhagen-Malmö and the revival of the Paris-Rome route are also envisaged.

In all, 600 cars would be needed - 354 of which would be for domestic routes - at an estimated cost of 924 million euros, as well as 60 locomotives, for a total cost of 1.45 billion euros, including maintenance.

The proposed night network would have a deficit of 26 million euros a year, a figure roughly equal to the current deficit of the two existing night lines.

According to the ministry, the report published by Mobilettre is "an obsolete working version", and "its final version will be released in a few days".

The very active Oui au train de nuit ! ("Yes to the night train") collective welcomed the return of the Paris-Nice line, calling on the government to "commit itself without delay to releasing the necessary funding for the revival of night trains", with orders for new trains.

In a statement, the collective also proposed "rebalancing competition between train and plane, by reducing VAT on train tickets and setting a minimum price for plane tickets".

(with AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning