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‘Smelly’, ‘exceptionally clean’: Your views on French train conditions

A rail union recently issued a complaint about the cleanliness of Ouigo services, with reports of cockroaches in one. We ask for your opinion

We asked for your feedback on the cleanliness and general conditions inside SNCF trains Pic: Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

Recently, a French rail worker union criticised the conditions aboard SNCF’s low-cost Ouigo trains, which it claimed to be unsanitary. 

Read more: Flight deals, ‘cockroaches in trains’: eight France travel updates

“With Ouigo trains, the reality is that we are no longer capable of ensuring decent travel conditions and guaranteeing that the trains are clean for passengers and, by extension, that working conditions are acceptable for rail workers,” CGT-Cheminots Lyon-Perrache said in a statement. 

This was co-signed by its Bordeaux, Paris Montparnasse and Paris Gare de Lyon counterparts.

CGT-Cheminots Lyon-Perrache said that there have been reports of cockroaches, maggots, out-of-service toilets and malfunctioning air conditioning on some trains, especially the 774 which runs between Lyon and Paris. 

We asked Connexion readers whether they agree with complaints about the cleanliness of Ouigo services and – by extension – the general conditions on SNCF trains, or whether they are generally satisfied.

‘Air conditioning was broken’

Alison Skinner, who lives in Vaucluse and teaches English as a foreign language, said that the last time she travelled from Avignon to Paris, the “air conditioning was broken on a very hot day.

“We were moved very quickly after we got on to another carriage. 

“On the return journey I tried three toilets and they were all filthy. In the end I used the one that said it was out of service. It was the cleanest of the three.”

Read more: Are trains in France legally required to have AC during summer months?

‘Exceptionally clean’ 

Karen King, a hairdresser living in Dordogne, often travels between Bergerac and Bordeaux because her five children are all studying in the latter. 

“I personally have found trains in France [to be] exceptionally clean in the carriages and toilets and have never had a complaint in the 20 years I have lived in France,” she said. 

‘Toilets are frequently closed’ 

Julia Nolet, a former French literature professor who is now a writer, told us: “I often say I live on the TGV,” as she travels regularly between her properties in Paris and Vallauris (Alpes-Maritimes). 

“I can’t tell you when I take a classic TGV and when I take OUIGO – I just find a train that meets my time requirements,” she said. 

“In first class – I nearly always take first class – the toilets are frequently closed, marked out of order. 

“At times I’ve had to go up and down stairs through more than one car to find a WC that’s working. 

“If they’re open, often the soap dispenser, the wash water or the hand dryer (or more than one of these) is not functioning. 

“Crews try to keep them clean and supplied with toilet paper, but the first-class cars themselves are dingy and very worn; seats and electric connections often don’t function. 

“Sometimes even the tables don’t work. The whole physical state of first-class cars has grown worse and worse over the past ten years.”

‘Hell’ 

Tim, a consultant who lives in Paris but travels regularly in France and abroad, said: “The last time my wife and I travelled on a Ouigo from Bordeaux to Paris it was hell.”

He added that they were “squeezed in like sardines into a new seat configuration. Then the driver was not there due to the weather so [we were] delayed with the air conditioning broken in an overloaded train.”

He said that they arrived after midnight, and that “taxi vouchers were available, only not enough for most people.”

Tim also criticised the baggage restrictions imposed on Ouigo trains, which follow a similar system to low-cost airlines by not including a suitcase or ‘XL’ bag in a standard fare. 

“[How] can weight be a problem for a train, when we should be trying to encourage train use?” he said.

‘Smelly, not clean’

Barbara Lindsay, a retired nurse living in Dordogne, said that Ouigo “toilets are more often than not smelly, [with] wet floors, not clean and with insufficient supplies.”

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