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New UK-France ferry, Spanish TGVs: 9 French travel updates

We also look at Eurostar’s response to bedbugs, the new TGV M, Air France’s new award and more

New Transavia flights, Renfe’s French expansion, Electric buses in Cannes and the 'Fusion Class' cross-Channel ferry Pic: Markus Mainka / Lukas Wunderlich / Ceri Breeze/ Shutterstock / Andrew Ditton / Youtube

This week you may have seen our articles on the new Ouigo route between Charles de Gaulle airport and Toulon, SNCF tickets on sale for the Christmas season, how the Port of Dover expansion could affect travel and the continuing problem with bedbugs on Paris trains and buses.

Train travel updates: 

  • Eurostar is stepping up its cleaning efforts to prevent the bedbug infestation which has been plaguing Paris trains and buses from spreading to its trains or to the UK.

In as statement, the high-speed operator said:

“The safety and wellbeing of our customers is always our number one priority, and the presence of insects, such as bedbugs, on our trains is extremely rare.”

The company added that its trains are regularly cleaned thoroughly using an industry-grade high pressure water injection system that is effective at eliminating the parasites.

  • The new TGV M will consume 20% less energy than current TGVs and emit 37% less CO₂ according to new information released by the SNCF.

The fifth generation TGVs, currently undergoing testing in Czechia, are fully modulable, which will allow the operator to change the number of carriages, alter the seating configuration, swap first and second class compartments and add extra space for bicycles and baggage.

They also boast increased capacity, with space for 740 passengers rather than the 600 that TGVs currently accommodate.

The TGV M is also the first TGV to have been designed with input from wheelchair users.

115 new TGV Ms are scheduled to come into service on a rolling basis between 2025 and 2030.

Read more: Greener, faster, higher capacities: see new French TGV being tested

  • Low-cost train tickets to Spain are on sale until October 10 for travel between October 23 and December 9 via the Renfe website

The discounted tickets cost €15 between French stations on the routes and €29 from Montpellier or Nîmes to Barcelona or Madrid.

Renfe currently operates two daily return services between France and Spain: Barcelona-Lyon and Madrid-Marseille.

The Spanish company has also stated its intention to run trains between Paris and Lyon before summer 2024, expanding its presence in France. 

“Paris is the objective,” said the head of Renfe France, Susana Lozano, in a press conference, hailing the company’s success during its first two months in France. 

“In these first few months, Renfe has carried 105,000 passengers on its two high speed lines, with 37,000 going from Marseille to Madrid.” 

However, while Renfe’s prices are still lower than those of the SNCF, they have recently increased significantly.

Tickets between French stations that cost €9 on launch in September now cost €19. Tickets from Barcelona to Lyon or Madrid to Marseille that initially cost €29 now cost €39. 

Renfe says that these price increases are due to the increasing cost of rail tolls in France, which it must pay to SNCF Réseau for the right to operate on its tracks.

The Paris-Lyon route is seen as a lucrative potential market by Renfe which has so far limited its incursion into the French market to less busy routes.

Both Italian operator Trenitalia and SNCF already operate high-speed links between Paris and Lyon, and the competition between them has so far proved to be a boon for rail passengers.

The price of tickets between Paris and Lyon decreased by 8% in 2022, and now cost €42.

Renfe has not yet announced its price to travel between Paris and Lyon.

  • A police raid at two Montpellier stations saw 1,000 police checks on passengers in a deliberate show of force that disrupted two SNCF TGVs and two Ouigo TGVs.

The trains at Montpellier Saint-Roch and Sud de France stations were raided by 60 police officers, CRS, rail police and two drug detection dog units, as part of the police’s ‘zero crime on the train’ programme. No arrests were made.

However, the police fined two people for driving on the tramway and issued two on the spot fines for possession of illicit substances.

The police say such operations will occur regularly over the coming months.

Read also: High speed link between Toulouse and Bordeaux slow going

Air travel updates:

  • French low-cost airline Transavia will fly from Paris Orly to Tallinn (Estonia) and Bergen (Norway) from April 2024.

These routes can be booked from Tuesday, October 10 on their website, with flights to Tallinn starting on April 4 from €64 and to Bergen starting on April 6 from €62.  

In a statement announcing the routes, Transavia France manager Nicolas Hénin said:

“We are delighted to expand our network to the north with these two lines. Thanks to our low-cost offer holidaymakers will now be able to visit the majestic fjords of Bergen or delve into the mediaeval history of Tallinn,” he said.

Mr Hénin added, “We are the only operator to offer these routes from Paris Orly.”

  • Air France won the award for Europe’s Leading Airline at the World Travel Awards 2023 this week.

The company was also awarded a five star rating for customer service by the Airline Passenger Experience Association in September.

The awards are good news for the company which was struggling with union disputes and a fragile financial situation in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.

In a further sign of its recovery, the company also announced that it is investing €145m in Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), which will give it a controlling stake in the company.

  • The long awaited revamp of Nantes airport will not happen soon after Transport Minister Clément Beaune cancelled the bid to tender for the work this week.

“We cannot let the state commit to an unsatisfactory offer that presents too many weaknesses both in financial and environmental terms,” said Mr Beaune after only one company bid for the role.

The minister said that a new tender will be launched by the end of the year “under more satisfactory conditions”.

“The airport needs to be modernised,” he said. “Our commitment remains clear.”

The modernisation of Nantes Atlantique airport was announced in 2018 to cope with ageing infrastructure and increasing passenger numbers which have doubled in the past decade.

President of the Pay-de-Loire region Christelle Morançais was disappointed by the decision.

“This is very bad news for the region, once again they let us down on the airport, where the State has decidedly failed with all its words.”

Bus updates:

  • Paca will have a carbon neutral transport system by 2028, the first region in France to adopt such a system.

107 electric buses are already in operation in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur – called by the regional council Région Sud – with a further 16 double-decker electric buses expected to be delivered by 2024.

Operator Keodis says its buses are equipped with free wifi to provide an “optimal travelling experience”, and encourage people to use public transport. The buses currently carry 12 million passengers each year.

The €600m investment aims to reduce the region’s carbon footprint by 105,000 tonnes over eight years as part of the drive towards zero carbon emissions.

“To turn this ambition into a reality, the Région Sud is deploying a strategy that is unique in France to improve public transport and ensure its decarbonization,” said the region's president Renaud Muselier. 

“We always consider the development of reliable, clean and high-performance public transportation to be at the heart of our regional transport strategy.”

Read also: Driverless bus operates on usual travel line for first time in France

Ferry updates:

  • P&O is to introduce its second ‘Fusion Class’ ferry, the MS P&O Liberté on the Dover - Calais route from early 2024. 

‘Fusion Class’ ships are considered ‘hybrid ferries’ due to their high battery capacity, which can in future be switched to more sustainable fuel sources. P&O introduced the first ship of this new class in June, the P&O Pioneer, which is the longest double ended ferry in the world.

The new ship will replace P&O’s old ‘Darwin Class’ ships the The Pride of Kent and The Pride of Canterbury.

The company reported a 48% increase in passenger numbers, with 1.3 million passengers crossing the channel this summer. Freight volume has also increased significantly by 71% over last year.

P&O Ferries CEO Peter Hebblethwaite was delighted by the improvement in the company’s fortunes.

“We are excited that more customers are choosing us on our journey to the sustainable future of travel,” he said. 

“We look forward to welcoming millions more for the exceptional and unique experience of sailing on our new hybrid ships in the months ahead.”

The upturn in P&O's fortunes this year comes after a disastrous 2022 in which the company fired 800 employees in what staff described as a "three-minute video call".

The move, which was roundly criticised, came out of a desire to cut costs.

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