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New UK-France air route, TGVs get a revamp: 8 French travel updates

We also look at plans for a flat-rate rail pass, a car-free day in Paris, transport strike threats around the Rugby World Cup and an update on the landslide in Savoie

Toulouse metro strikes, a new Easyjet route, Nightjet sleeper trains and a car-free Paris Pic: Kiev.Victor / SimoneAmi / BalkansCat / Spech / Shutterstock

Flat-rate rail pass to become reality next summer

A flat rate train pass for unlimited travel could become a reality as early as next summer.

President Macron said that he was “very favourable” for such a pass during an interview with Youtuber HugoDecrypte and the idea received immediate support from France’s Transport Minister Clément Beaune.

Mr Beaune, talking to Télématin, has now stated that while the pass would be heavily subsidised by the regional councils, it would be national, “for everyone, all over the country”.

“The idea is that anyone would be able to use this pass, irrespective of their age, to travel anywhere for a flat rate, and hopefully with coordination from the bus and metro systems in large cities,” he said.

Negotiations between the various regions and municipalities should begin in September, with Mr Beaune hopeful that a deal can be reached before next summer.

While the minister could not say exactly how much a flat rate rail pass would cost, he agreed that a price of around €49 per month is realistic, conceding that the regions would have to have their say on the price. 

However, what the regions say may not please the minister, with Franck Dhersin, vice president of the Hauts-de-France region tweeting:

“The president often has these really clever ideas, but really should stop having ideas about how regions should spend their money.”

Read also: Ways to save money on train travel in France 

See the TGV of the future

The look of the fifth generation of TGVs, called the TGV M, featuring more comfortable seats, new interior lighting, and a greater capacity for passengers were revealed this week.

The trains will start to appear from 2025 on the Paris - Lyon - Marseille route and are part of a €3.5billion investment as the SNCF seeks to increase the capacity of its rail fleet.

The interior design of the new carriages features blue and red seats that have 5cm more leg room and are “twice as comfortable”.

The SNCF told BFMTV that its new TGVs are "a moment of emotion… fruit of four years’ work… a revolutionary jewel in the crown.” 

Alstom, the French train manufacturer, will produce 115 of the new TGVs, 100 of which are destined for the SNCF and 15 for other European operators.

There are currently 362 TGVs in France, so the purchase of 100 new trains represents a significant advance in the development of high-speed rail.

Manoeuvrability tests are currently underway, and the new trains will have to travel over one million kilometres before they can begin commercial operations.

Car-free day for Paris on September 17

Paris will go car-free for the 9th Paris Respire, or ‘Paris breathes’, day on September 17.

All of the city within the péripherique ring road will be closed to traffic with the exception of residents, who are permitted to drive to and from their homes on presentation of their carte grise.

"Just as last year, the whole town will be reserved for non-polluting means of transport such as bikes, roller skates, scooters and longboards,” said mayor Anne Hidalgo. 

Public transport including buses and taxis will also be permitted (along with emergency vehicles), but limited to a top speed of 20km/h.

AirParif, responsible for monitoring air quality in Paris and its suburbs, says the car-free day last year led to a 20% reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions along with “a reduced concentration of PM10 and PM2.5 fine particles along Paris boulevards.”

Drivers caught out by the ban will be subject to a €135 fine.

The day falls during the Journées européennes du patrimoine heritage weekend, which sees cultural centres and museums offer reduced prices or free access and many other interesting buildings, often closed to the public, open to visit. 

In addition to the annual Paris Respire car-free day, the first Sunday of each month is also car-free, albeit on a smaller scale covering the historic centre of Paris and the Champs-Élysées.

Read more: 

Plans finalised to ban cars from narrow streets of Montmartre in Paris 

Paris to go "car free” for a day

New Easyjet route between Southend and Grenoble

A new Easyjet route between London Southend and Grenoble is to start on January 14, giving winter travellers a new way to reach the Alps for prices starting from €35.

Grenoble, in Isère, is close to the Val-d’Isère, Tignes and Méribel winter resorts. 

The airport now has winter routes to Gatwick, Luton, Southend, Bristol, Edinburgh and Manchester airports.

The new route will fly each Sunday, leaving Southend at 7:45, arriving in Grenoble at 10:15. The flights from Grenoble leave at 10.55, arriving at 11:35, including the time difference.

Transport strikes set to hit Rugby World Cup

A growing number of workers’ unions in the transport sector have announced their intention to strike during the Rugby World Cup. The list includes the RATP (Paris Metro), air traffic controllers and the Toulouse buses 

Workers from Toulouse bus and metro operator Tisseo, who went on strike on September 5 and again on September 8, say they intend to use the Rugby World Cup as a means to advance their demands and to "finally" succeed in getting the attention of politicians.

The announcement could further compound the increasingly tense situation created by the RATP (Paris Metro) and air traffic controller strikes.

Read more: French air traffic controllers call for a one-day strike in September 

Toulouse will host five matches during the competition, but access to the stadium, which is in the city centre, relies heavily on public transport,and particularly on the underground.

So far, Tisseo has confined the disruption in Toulouse to the Tram routes.

Paris - Berlin night train from December 12

The Paris - Berlin night train will return on December 12 following a nine year hiatus.

“The service will start on  December 11 from Berlin, running three times a week, and will become a daily service from October 2024”, said a spokesperson for operator OBB to Agence France presse. The train from Paris will leave the following day. 

The Vienna-based OBB operator runs night trains all over Europe under its Nightjet brand. It already has a Paris - Vienna sleeper route with tickets from €29.40 for reclinable seats and up to €371 for fully furnished luxury cabins that include a double bed, shower, towels and slippers.

The Paris - Berlin train will stop at Mannheim, Erfurt and Halle, on a journey lasting around ten hours.

The relaunch of the Paris - Berlin night train was announced in 2020 as part of the wider push to reintroduce night trains, which are seen as a relatively green means of transport compared with air travel.

Read more: Paris-Nice night train restarts with PM onboard for first trip 

Prices for the new route have yet to be announced, and there is still some discussion ongoing as to whether the train should go through Sarrebruck or Strasbourg. However, Transport Minister Clément Beaune told Le Monde that the train will also stop in Strasbourg once the details have been meted out, which he suggest will be no later than 2025.

Shipping containers used to protect A43 from landslide

The massive landslide in the valley of Maurienne in Savoie that cut off road and rail traffic on August 27 is still covering the rails, however the A43 is expected to reopen this Saturday (September 9).

Read more: Watch: landslide closes major train route from France into Italy 

The motorway was closed due to concerns for the integrity of its concrete support pillars, along with the risk of further landslides.

Inspection of the pillars established that they were stable, and a wall of 60 shipping containers stacked eight metres high has been built to safeguard the motorway from further landslides as workers try to shore up the loose cliff face.

“Around 500 sandbags have been delivered by helicopter,” said Alain Chabert, who is leading the effort for SFTRF, the company that maintains the nearby Fréjus tunnel. “We have also put skips filled with rubble on departmental road 1006 to give a second level of protection.”

The wall of containers and the skips are likely to remain for several months, during which time traffic on the A43 will be limited to one lane in each direction between Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne and Modane.

There is no update on when rail traffic will resume, much to the consternation of rail workers. The CGT rail workers union demanded that Mr Beaune provide “a clear review of the damage to rail infrastructure”, “a timetable to begin repair work” and “means to allow travellers and freight to travel locally while the repairs happen”.

Mr Beaune has not given a date for the reopening of the rail link, which he told France Bleu “will take time”. However, he did announce another measure to mitigate the disturbance to the flow of  traffic between Italy and France. 

The Mont Blanc tunnel, which had been scheduled to close for repairs for 12 weeks from September 4, has had to remain open to help ease the congestion caused by the closure of the A43. 

While repairs to the tunnel are reportedly long overdue, Mr Beaune says they will not need to last 12 weeks, seven should suffice. The minister added that the date of this prospective closure will be announced “in the next few days”.

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