Baggage thefts on French trains on rise: travellers use GPS trackers

Smartphone-linked trackers are increasingly popular method to prevent thefts from luggage racks

Train travellers are increasingly turning to solutions such as GPS or Bluetooth trackers, like the Apple AirTag, which are designed to avoid loss and theft

Train passengers in France are increasingly turning to padlocks and even GPS trackers to keep a close eye on their bags, as bag and suitcase thefts increase.

Train company SNCF does not publish official figures on bag thefts, saying the data is “confidential”, but estimates suggest there are up to 400 such incidents on TGV and TER trains per month, reports BFMTV.

Bag thefts tend to happen in stations, when the train stops for a short while. Thieves may board the train and quickly take bags from the dedicated racks before the owner notices. 

This is especially common for larger bags, which tend to be stored in luggage racks at the end of each carriage, out of sight from most of the seats.

“I went to the bathroom about five minutes before the train stop,” said one victim to la Presse de la Manche. “My bag was still there when I went back to my seat. I only realised [it had been stolen] a short time after the stop.”

Some passengers try to prevent thefts by sitting as close to the baggage rack as they can, to keep an eye on their luggage, while others stick to smaller bags that they can store in overhead racks.

Stronger anti-theft action

Yet, posts on social media suggest that some are taking increasingly strong action. 

Methods include:

  • Attaching your bag to the rack itself with a loop-style metal padlock.

  • Using a GPS or Bluetooth tracker that can tell where the bag is at all times. If the bag begins to ‘move’, the owner receives a notification instantly on their smartphone. GPS trackers can also help to locate the bag in case it is stolen (while Bluetooth trackers have limited range).

Popular trackers include the Apple AirTag, and the Tile tracker, but there are many others.

Read also: Station bag thief caught after laptop inside tracks him to French city 

This second method may also mean that travellers can keep an eye on other passengers, who may not be using the racks in the most appropriate way, one X (Twitter) user said.

He wrote that this had “almost ended badly” with one German traveller, who had moved all the existing luggage out of the way of the baggage rack, having “decided that his bike should occupy the entire rack”.

Read also: Phone thief on Paris train caught when passengers call and hear ring 
Read also: French couple’s detective work reunites stolen bag with Scottish owner 

Is the train company responsible?

No. SNCF maintains that it cannot take responsibility for bag thefts, and urges passengers to keep an eye on their luggage at all times.

Similarly, French transport authority l'Autorité de la qualité de service dans les transports (AQST) states: “It is up to you, and you alone, to look after [your luggage]. In principle, the carrier is not responsible for the fate of the baggage that you take with you on the train. 

“Whether you keep it with you or leave it in the baggage racks (at the end of the carriage or above your seat), even if you do so at the invitation of a member of the carrier's staff, it is entirely your responsibility, and the fact that baggage racks are provided free of charge for the duration of the journey does not impose any contractual obligation on the carrier to supervise it. 

“Loading and unloading operations are likewise carried out by passengers, under their sole responsibility.”

What can I do if my bag is stolen?

The main course of action would be to make a complaint, or to claim for the stolen items under your own insurance, if you have it. 

Although SNCF does not take responsibility for stolen luggage, it does operate CCTV on board trains and platforms, and there are rail security agents on board some trains. These could help police identify thieves in the event of a complaint.

It is also advised to label your luggage with your surname, first name, and address. Putting your telephone number on the bag is mandatory, SNCF says.

The AQST also advises people not to keep valuables in luggage stored in racks and to keep these on your person at all times.

If you have valuable or bulky luggage, are travelling far, struggle to transport your own luggage, and/or want to avoid theft from luggage racks, there is always the option to ‘check in’ luggage with SNCF. It offers a baggage transport service on inOui TGVs (at extra cost per bag).

SNCF then has responsibility to transport your items safely from A to B, as laid out in the contract terms.

“Always remember to keep written records of your dealings with SNCF,” the AQST states.