Speaking at a press conference this week, CEO Guillaume Pepy defended the company against claims it had seen a bad 2017, including criticism over many less-than-punctual trains and incidents that saw Montparnasse station out of use, and passengers left stranded at Bercy.
He said that 2017 had also included many positive moves for customers, and had seen passenger numbers rise to 10 million more journeys on the TGV service (up 10% from 2016), and 6 million more journeys on the TER service, as reported by French news source 20 Minutes.
The next year will see SNCF seek to attract even more passengers, and offer a number of changes designed to help improve their experience even more, Pepy said.
The first change will be the digitisation of tickets, via customer smartphones. Rather than queue up for a paper ticket, customers will be able to download an app, and keep digital tickets on their phone, simply scanning their screen to validate their journey.
SNCF also plans to roll out what it called a “Waze for trains” (Waze is a popular smartphone app for drivers). Just like its namesake, this new app will show travellers if there are any incidents on their route - such as delayed trains or accidents - and allow customers to let others know as soon as there are problems, so they can prepare or take a different route.
The company also plans to set up a new “alert system”, rolling out in February.
This will have numbers from 1 to 7 denoting if there have been any incidents, and how serious they have been, if so. For example, “1” will mean a less-serious problem, such as a slight delay; whereas “7” will mean there has been a serious incident, requiring the suspension of travel for at least several hours.
SNCF is also planning to introduce a new “météo” service for trains, but rather than showing the weather, it will let passengers know how many trains were in service the day before, line-by-line, and how regular they were. This will now be a daily update, rather than the sporadic once-a-month or once-a-year alert, so passengers can get an idea of the “health” of the service.
When it comes to actual train services, SNCF is looking to prioritise its low-cost option, OuiGo, which has become more and more popular over the past few years.
In 2018, the company is aiming to see passenger numbers rise from 7 million to 13 million on OuiGo, and is looking to offer services from the Gare de Lyon and the Gare de l’Est in Paris, in addition to the current trains operating from Gare Montparnasse.
As for the stations themselves, SNCF is planning several “massive works”, largely in response to an order from the Minister for Transport following the incidents of 2017.
The building work scheme, which will take three years in total to complete and cost 1.2 billion, will include the Gare du Nord and Gare Montparnasse in Paris, along with the stations in Nantes, Rennes, and Lyon Part-Dieu.
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France