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Eurostar hope, faster flight refunds, TGV row: 8 French travel updates

Plus promise of cheaper train tickets in France and Normandy trials ticketless transport

Planes, trains, and ferries all feature in this week’s wrap Pic: William Barton / Spech / Tobias Arhelger / EQRoy / Shutterstock

1. France promises cheaper tickets for Intercités trains over the summer

A host of summer changes to non-high-speed rail services are set to come into play in the coming weeks, announced France’s transport minister Clément Beaune. 

Amongst them, cheaper tickets for “all users” of Intercités routes – non-high-speed rail lines between French cities – will be available during the summer period. 

The rolling stock of these services is also set to see a €5 billion investment, as the government seeks to encourage more people to use the lines. Currently, annual ridership rates for the service are around 12 million, said the minister. 

The introduction of a unified single ticket for regional TER (Transport express régional) services – which could be expanded to include Intercités lines – is also in the works. 

Although the launch date is unknown, Mr Beaune announced it will come into force “over the coming months”. 

The main difficulty is getting all regions – which currently set their own prices for passes – to agree on a uniform pricing structure. 

“We need to get round the table with the regions, which are already making great efforts, and the state, which can also do its bit, to define a single, inexpensive ticket,” the minister concluded.

Read more: Train ticket prices in France could go up for a second time this year

2. Passengers on Paris-Lyon train delayed overnight for more than six hours

Passengers were delayed overnight for more than six hours after a Ouigo classique train between Paris and Lyon broke down.

The service left Paris Austerlitz at 18:04 on Sunday, June 25. It finally pulled into Lyon’s Perrache station at 05:07 the following day – more than six hours later than scheduled – after an electrical problem on the train. 

Due to the extreme heat, passengers were authorised to leave the train and stay on the side of the tracks whilst a rescue locomotive was sent for.

Food and water were brought by the rail operator to those stranded from the breakdown – and according to one passenger, those who had brought snacks for what should have been a four-hour journey “shared their food with other passengers”. 

Despite the camaraderie, two female passengers fell ill and the fire brigade had to be called to attend to them. 

Passengers should be fully reimbursed for ticket costs after the incident. 

Read more: 14 words that change dependent on where you are in France

3. Public transport users in capital can apply for strike compensation

A “compensation campaign” to refund over two million public transport users in the Île-de-France region around Paris is set to open next week. 

The campaign will be open from July 5 to August 9 and is for those whose travel was impacted by the wave of strike action in 2023, largely against the controversial pension reform bill, which has raised France’s minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. 

“Twenty-nine branches of train lines saw, on at least one day, a service of less than 33%, i.e. a level below the minimum service threshold,” said Île-de-France Mobilités, who manage public transport in the region. 

On top of this, some of these lines had “more than 20 days of service below 33%,” it added. 

Contractors who run the train lines in the region are required to pay at least one-thirtieth of the cost of a monthly pass (€2.80) for each day services were below this level.

Users however will receive more than the minimum amount. For those who saw between one and three days of disruption, they will be refunded €10.

Passengers who saw four or more days of disruption will be granted an additional €10 refund, plus an extra €2.80 for every day of disruptions they faced.

Pass holders from the Greater Paris region could receive “up to €94” in compensation, the group added. 

Read more: Firefighters, fêtes and forms: Key dates to know this July in France

4. Changes to flight refunds on the horizon

European legislation requiring travel agents to provide refunds no later than 14 days after a flight cancellation is set to come into force on June 30. 

Principal travel agencies Odigeo (Opodo, Go Voyages, Travellink and Liligo), Etraveli Group and Kiwi.com said they will refund customers no later than seven days after receiving compensation money from airlines, in the case of a cancelled flight. 

This means customers who book through these travel agencies will receive a full refund within 14 days of the intended flight date. 

Current rules mean airlines have to compensate passengers who choose a refund (instead of alternate flight arrangements) the option to do so within seven days – but until now, the same rules did not apply to travel agents.

Travel agencies will also have to provide clearer information about passengers' statutory rights in the case of flight changes or cancellations, and provide contact details on their website in the event of changes to flights. 

Any person still waiting on a refund from a travel agency for a flight cancelled due to the Covid pandemic will need to be refunded by June 30, 2023.

Read more: Three French airports told to cancel half of flights due to strike

5. Eurostar seeking full return to passenger levels in 2023

The Eurostar passenger figures for 2022 have been revealed, showing a level around 80% of that in 2019 (the last year before Covid). 

Thanks in part to ‘revenge travel’ undertaken after Covid scuppered holiday plans in 2020 and 2021, more than 8 million passengers took the service between London and Paris.

The numbers allowed the Eurostar Group – which also owns the Thalys service between Paris and Germany/Belgium – to reduce their debt to under €1 billion, by paying off €127 million of payments earlier than expected. 

“These results are encouraging in terms of becoming the backbone of sustainable travel in Europe,” said Eurostar Group CEO Gwendoline Cazenave.

The group is still aiming to return to pre-pandemic levels, however.

The group has pinned hopes on a daily direct service between London and Amsterdam, which should drive an increase in passengers. But other issues – such as the rise in videoconferencing, Brexit, and strike action in 2023 on both sides of the Channel – could see numbers stagnate. 

One change coming later this year is the restyling of Thalys trains to the familiar Eurostar livery and moniker, which will coalign in a major advertising campaign for the service.

Read more: Major delays on France-UK border in 2024, warns new Brexit report

6. Paris-Berlin TGV causes row in Strasbourg

An announcement that the high-speed Paris-Berlin train service - set to open in 2024 and be jointly run by SNCF and Deutsche Bahn - will not run through Strasbourg has caused ire in the city. 

SNCF CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou announced on June 21 the decision to not run the line through the city was due to Deutsche Bahn preferring an alternate route – something the German rail operator confirmed the next day. 

It prefers the line runs through Saarbrücken, about 100km north of Strasbourg instead. 

Strasbourg city councillors believe the line should pass through the city however, due to its Franco-German history and its hosting of European institutions. 

Councillors, alongside the city’s mayor Jeanne Barseghian, said they will continue to lobby the French government for the line to pass through the city. 

France’s transport minister, Clément Beaune, said making a stop in Strasbourg was “a priority” for his government and was “strongly requested by SNCF,” during meetings over the route. 

Read more: New TGV will allow travel from Paris to Berlin in seven hours

7. New ferry enters service between Ireland and France 

Ferry company Stena Line has added a new ship to its roster serving the Rosslare - Cherbourg route. 

The ‘STENA VISION’ will join the ‘STENA HORIZON’ ship on the route, with passenger services starting from June 30, after a freight-only test run last week. 

The ship, which has space for 1,300 passengers, and has almost 500 cabins – 42 of which are ‘pet friendly’ – will see the number of trips between the two ports offered by the service jump to 12. 

Services will be available between Rosslare-Cherbourg every day of the week except Monday, with a trip taking roughly 17 hours. 

The addition will also provide an increase to freight transport between the cities. 

Read more: Yacht gives holidaymakers green ferry option in France

8. Normandy trials ticketless public transport

A number of public transport services in Normandy are trialling a new app that measures your journey using geolocation instead of providing you with a ticket. 

The ‘Fairtiq’ mobile application allows users to log into the app when they start their journey, then log out again when they exit, with the device tracking the journey they made and then billing them for it through the app. 

Currently, the app is being trialled on 17 public transport networks in the region – including Caen’s bus and tram lines – and is slowly being rolled out in other areas. 

“We're going to extend the experiment as we go along. For the moment, we don't know in which zone,” said Cédric Morel, director of the Atoumod public transportation network that provides public transport services in Normandy. 

Alongside public transport routes, there are plans to introduce the service for regional SNCF rail lines, bypassing the need to buy tickets for shorter journeys in Normandy. 

“We hope that this will encourage people to use public transport," says Pascal Leprettre, vice president of the Le Havre Seine Métropole urban community.

Currently, the app does not provide the ability to compare routes and prices in advance, but this is planned for a later update of the service. 

Other updates being rolled out as the trial continues will be the ability for families to travel together using a single account on the application, as well as season passes for frequent travellers. 

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