Last train on UK-Paris link, new hybrid ferry: 8 French travel updates

We also look at reports that a high-speed train service will resume between France and Barcelona

Trains, planes and ferries all feature in our French travel round-up this week
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1. Last ‘Disneyland Express’ leaves London

The final train from London St Pancras to the Disneyland Paris stop of Marne-la-Vallée departed at 10.34 on Monday (June 5), nearly a year after Eurostar first warned it was closing the route.

The direct service has been popular with British families since it launched in 1996, but the company said last summer it would be focusing on “core routes” as part of its Covid recovery.

Read more: Eurostar to cancel direct London-Disneyland Paris train in June 2023

Eurostar added it would monitor developments of the EU’s proposed new digital border system and wanted “to focus on providing a reliable service with the experience that our customers rightly expect”.

Read more: New European Entry/Exit System: 9 key things to know in advance

British tourists heading for the theme park will now have to travel to Paris Gare du Nord and then take an RER to Marne-la-Vallée. Alternatively, they can change in Lille.

In related news, there were reports last week that Eurostar’s Amsterdam link could also be suspended from June next year until as late as May 2025 as the capital’s main station undergoes renovation.

Dutch media claimed that the Netherlands’ infrastructure secretary Vivianne Heijnen had warned that no Eurostar trains would be able to run to or from Amsterdam Centraal during the works.

However, following severe criticism from travellers and after a meeting with Eurostar CEO Gwendoline Cazenave on Monday, Ms Heijnen is reportedly now looking at whether the current terminal can continue to be used during the renovations until a temporary facility is ready.

2. Roads investment to fall in France as government outlines regional transport package

France’s transport minister Clément Beaune has outlined how increased investment in regional transport might play out over the next five years.

In a media address on Tuesday (June 6), he said the state will pour €8.6 billion into regional transport in this time, representing a "50%" increase compared with the period 2015 to 2022.

Priority will be given to rail and public transport, for which the budget increases by 90% per year, Mr Beaune said – a "near doubling of the effort".

In February, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced a desire to invest €100 billion in rail infrastructure between now and 2040.

Read more: Strikes, Eurostar offer, Brittany Ferries: Eight French travel updates

"We are starting discussions with the regions on the concrete implementation of the €100 billion plan,” Mr Beaune said.

The government has earmarked €800 million for metropolitan RER systems, including in Strasbourg, Lille, Nantes, Rennes and Rouen.

Read more: Macron announces RER commuter train project for 10 French cities

Some €900 million will also go on freight projects while funding for waterways, ports and cycle routes will increase too.

“The share of road transport will fall since 70% of the funding will be devoted to rail and public transport. We will therefore have to be more selective on road projects," Mr Beaune said.

Contracts are expected to be signed with local authorities by the autumn.

3. France set for another bumper summer of rail travel

Environmental concerns and rising airfares have been credited with an unprecedented number of rail bookings in France this summer.

To date, bookings on SNCF Voyageurs are up 20% this summer than last, as passengers appear undeterred by the cost of living crisis in their quest to get away for the holidays.

Read more: French train tickets on sale from €3: where can I buy them?

"We had a record summer in 2022, with over 23 million passengers on the main lines in France. This year we hope to do at least as well," Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs, told AFP.

"The indicators are positive,” he added. “The whole leisure and tourism industry is saying the same thing. Tourism is doing well!

"Despite inflation and a bit of gloom, the French have enshrined a little bubble of holiday happiness.

He said French people were factoring in rail fares as necessary expenses in their desire to go on holiday, with more and more young people lured by the transport’s green credentials.

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

Mr Fanichet reassured travellers that although seats were filling up fast, the state-owned operator was doing its utmost to maximise resources.

"All our trains will be out and about and are being prepared for the summer,” he said.

"Despite the industrial action of recent weeks, we have managed to keep to our maintenance schedules, to look ahead and to have the parts needed to ensure that all the air conditioning systems are completely up to date and that the fleet is 100% available."

Read also: The new rules for train ticket reimbursement over delays in France

4. Lyon-Barcelona line to reopen before July?

The Spanish state-owned rail operator Renfe is set to reopen the high-speed line between Lyon and Barcelona in time for the summer holidays after it came to a halt last December.

The line, which was co-managed by the SNCF and Renfe, is expected to resume between now and July under Renfe’s management alone.

Two return trips will be offered a day, according to BFM, which claims Renfe has obtained all the necessary authorisations, trained its drivers, reserved train paths and carried out tests on the network. Only the ticketing system remains to complete.

A Marseille-Madrid service is also reportedly on the cards, as well as a service between Paris and Lyon before next year’s Olympics.

Read more: New UK-France flights, TGV change, tunnel closed: 8 travel updates

5. Landslide causes severe delays to trains between Lyon and Grenoble

Trains between Lyon and Grenoble are still facing delays after a landslide damaged a rail track between the cities.

France’s state-owned rail operator SNCF announced on Thursday (June 8) that work to repair the line had begun, but services between the two cities will not return to normal until June 14.

The landslide, which happened after torrential downpours in the region on Saturday (June 3), has led to some trains being re-routed and others being completely replaced by temporary bus services.

Trains further into the mountainous Savoie and Haute-Savoie department were also affected, including the Lyon-Chambéry route.

Read more: French first as city brings in parking charges linked to car’s weight

6. Brittany Ferries’ economic recovery ‘slower than expected’

Brittany Ferries is seeing a return to pre-2019 activity levels, but a full recovery is taking longer than expected.

The ferry operator, which mostly runs routes between the UK and France, says it recovered around 65% of passengers in the winter period (November 2022 - March 2023) compared to 2018 - 2019.

Despite the focus on UK-France routes, recovery is largely being driven from routes out of Ireland – the company’s France-Ireland services have seen a 171% increase in passengers, and those between Ireland and Spain a 201% increase.

At the same time, the company has reported the number of travellers between the UK and France has decreased.

On top of the reduction in passenger numbers on core routes, the company says fierce competition is impacting recovery.

It says there is a fare war between operators, to the disadvantage of Brittany Ferries because competitors are using cheap non-European labour to undercut them.

“P&O and Irish Ferries have the means to pursue a low-cost policy, a veritable distortion of competition that is undermining the return to growth of a company like Brittany Ferries, the leading employer of French sailors,” it said.

Read more: UK-France flights boost, ferry criticism: 8 French travel updates

7. Ryanair cancel 400 flights over French strikes

Low-cost airline Ryanair said it was forced to cancel more than 400 flights across Europe on Tuesday (June 6), due to Air Traffic Controller (ATC) strikes in France.

Around one in eight of all the airline’s flights were scrapped, which Group CEO of Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, called “utterly indefensible.”

The ATCs were striking as part of protests against pension reforms in France, which will see the minimum retirement age rise from 62 to 64.

Ryanair says when ATCs walk out it affects all flights using French airspace, even if they are not landing or taking off in the country.

The airline recently filed a petition – which racked up 1.1 million signatures – protesting against the strikes.

It called for an end to the prioritisation of domestic French flights when strikes occur.

“The French can take the TGV, they can take the motorways. But people flying across France are having their flights unnecessarily cancelled because the European Commission… will not take action,” said Mr O’Leary.

Read more: Easyjet boss says France strikes having ‘unacceptable consequences’

8. P&O Ferries welcomes the arrival of first hybrid ship

P&O Ferries’ first hybrid ship has arrived in Dover.

The firm expects the Pioneer to use 40% less fuel than other ships making the crossing between Dover and Calais.

The £230 million vessel, which is powered by fuel and batteries, is set to make its maiden voyage between England and France on June 19.

The company has also ordered a second hybrid ship, Liberté, which should come into service by the end of the year.

In the future, the hybrid vessels could be fully carbon neutral, but this is dependent on the presence of charging capabilities at Dover and Calais, with neither port currently equipped to recharge the ships’ batteries.

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