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

The relaunch is to be the first in a series of new night services. Campaigners also want lower VAT for train tickets and a minimum amount for plane tickets 'to rebalance' competition

The Gare d'Austerlitz in Paris at night. Paris-Nice night train restarts with PM onboard for first trip

The Paris-Nice service will depart from the Gare d'Austerlitz and arrive at Nice-Ville the next morning Pic: AdrianPopescu | Shutterstock

Night trains from Paris to Nice are back after three years’ absence, with Prime Minister Jean Castex booked to make the overnight journey on the first train to depart this evening (May 20).

The l'Intercités Paris-Nice train will depart at 20:52 from the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris, and arrive at Nice-Ville at 09:11 tomorrow morning. The journey is a leisurely 12 hours versus less than six hours in a high-speed TGV.

Tickets for the new service will start at €19 for a reclined seat, €29 for a second-class sleeper, and €39 for a first-class sleeper.

The night train on this route had been stopped in December 2017 due to a “lack of profit”, but it will now run again every day, in both directions, with six stops including Marseille, Toulon, and Cannes.

The relaunch had been scheduled to take place on April 16 but was delayed by the health crisis.

It is part of Mr Castex’s goal to begin a "rapid implementation of the recovery plan" after the Covid health crisis, which includes a €5.3billion package for the rail industry, including €100million for night trains.

He said the relaunch was aiming “to highlight a virtuous mode of transport that will help to open up [travel between] the regions. Nice is ultra-connected for high earners but less so for students and others.”

The relaunch of key night train routes is also an ecological step forwards, with these routes aiming to offer an alternative to domestic flights.

Read more: French domestic flights set to stop if 2h30 train journey available

‘A dozen night trains by 2030’

The government is aiming to relaunch a Paris-Tarbes service by the end of the year, and offer even more overnight routes within the next 10 years.

Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari has said: “My ambition is to have around a dozen night trains by 2030.”

Even without the disruption caused by the pandemic or repair work, before the relaunch of the Paris-Nice service, there were only two night train routes still operating in France; Paris-Briançon, and Paris-Rodez-Cerbère-Latour-de-Carol (Pyrénées-Orientales).

The carriages for these lines are set to receive a total renovation by 2023, at a cost of €44million.

A government report, published on May 18, shows that it is aiming to open a range of seasonal routes on lines such as Dijon-Marseille, Bordeaux-Marseille, Paris-Toulouse and Tours-Lyon; as well as links to major international cities.

Suggestions include routes such as Metz-Nancy-Strasbourg, Zurich-Geneva-Avignon, Marseille-Nice, Perpignan-Barcelona, and Toulouse-Bordeaux. The routes of Quimper-Nantes-Lyon-Geneva, Paris-Brussels-Hamburg-Copenhagen-Malmö and even Paris-Rome are also envisaged.

The plan has been partly modelled on the success of the Austrian company ÖBB, which recently created routes between major international cities including Vienna-Amsterdam and Munich-Rome.

Around 600 carriages will be needed for the full plan to go ahead, of which 354 would be used for domestic routes. Estimates suggest this will cost €924million. In addition, there will be 60 train engines, meaning a total cost of €1.45billion, including upkeep.

The Transport Ministry has said an updated, “definitive version” of these figures “will be published in a few days”.


Campaigners’ response

The night train campaigning group Oui au train de nuit has cautiously welcomed the relaunch of the Paris-Nice service. 

In a statement, it called on the government to “work as quickly as possible to unlock the necessary funds to allow the night train renaissance”, including the ordering of new trains, to make sure the move amounts to more than “good intentions”.

The group has also suggested that the government should “rebalance competition between trains and planes, by reducing the VAT on train tickets and fixing a minimum price for plane tickets”, so that night trains can effectively offer a “comfortable ecological alternative to planes and cars”.

It also said that France was significantly “behind” when it comes to regenerating its domestic railways and called for “major investment over the next decade”, including a move away from a “too-centred focus on Paris”, and towards “international lines that also depart from the southern half [of the country]”.

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Shopping, driving, home: What France’s new climate law would change
France domestic flight ban will apply to low-cost airlines

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