More Etias info, late planes, TGV revamp: 10 French travel updates

We also look at the Mont Blanc tunnel closure, a relaunched winter ferry link to Ireland and a new flat-rate transport fare in Bordeaux

New Etias details, Volotea short-haul flights, Rennes station and Mont Blanc tunnel to close
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Rail travel updates

Are French trains running late?

French trains are less punctual than at any time in the last 10 years, a new report, looking at 2022’s statistics, by the French transport watchdog (AQST) has claimed.

However, Clément Beaune, the French Minister of Transport, was eager to defend their punctuality.

“We are no worse than the Germans”, he said in an interview with FranceInfo. “We have been doing very well. I would remind anyone complaining - and I understand that there are problems - that French trains are more punctual on average than German trains.”

This would seemingly contradict the AQST whose report said:

“The overall punctuality of rail services has declined when compared to both 2019 and 2021. Indeed, for TGV and international services, 2022 was the worst year since 2012 alongside 2017 and 2018.”

Read more: French train delays last year ‘among the worst seen in a decade’

In fact while Germany is widely seen as the golden child of Europe, it does not set the gold standard of rail transport.

In 2022, only 68.7% of long distance German trains ran on time, compared to 91% of local trains.

The German rail network has been suffering from a number of infrastructure issues and speed restriction sections in addition to increased traffic volumes and high demand.

In France 86% of TGVs and 92% of regional trains were on time in 2022.

The gold standard of rail transport in Europe is Switzerland, where 92% of long distance and 93.5% of local trains run on time.

The punctuality of UK trains is far below that of Germany or even of France in its worst year for ten years.

In 2022, 67.7% of all UK trains ran on time, which rivals only Italy and Portugal for lateness.

‘Project Botox’ to extend life of 104 TGVs

104 TGVs are to have their operational lives extended by up to ten years under ‘Project Botox’, the SNCF has announced.

The number represents nearly a third of the TGVs currently in operation, which will continue to operate alongside the 115 new TGV Ms, scheduled to come into service between 2025 and 2030.

The TGV M is currently undergoing testing on a specialised rail circuit in the Czech Republic.

Last week saw high-speed tests at a cruising speed of 320km/h. In the coming months it is expected to reach 350km/h.

All TGVs undergo renovation half way through their operational life.

However ‘Project Botox’ looks to be more than skin deep, completely renovating the old TGVs to match the new interiors of the TGV M.

“The cost will certainly be several hundred million euros,” said Alain Krakovitch, Manager of TGV-Intercités. “Around two million man hours will be required in the SNCF workshops.”

“Of course, it will all be done with the comfort and safety of our passengers in mind.”

Thanks to this, the SNCF will be able to increase the number of Ouigo trains from 38 to 50.

No trains in Rennes this weekend

The Rennes train station will undergo a massive overhaul this weekend (September 23-24) and no trains will operate to or from the station for 23 hours.

The station will close to rail traffic from Saturday at 13:20 to Sunday at 12:20.

Passengers should still be able to travel to Rennes, albeit more slowly, as the affected trains are being replaced by a total of 150 buses.

The station is closing to allow the SNCF to implement a new, first-in-France system to allow two trains bound for different destinations to operate on the same track.

SNCF workers will have 23 hours to install and test the new system.

When operational, the ‘two trains on a track’ system is expected to allow for a 30% increase in rail traffic through the station.

Go anywhere in Bordeaux for €10 a month

Bordeaux is introducing a flat rate fare for buses, trams and bike-sharing from December.

The new flat rate fare would allow passengers to take trips on buses, trams, the metro and on share-bikes without having to buy additional tickets.

The fare will cost €10 a month in addition to the annual fee for a Transports Bordeaux Métropole (TBM) card.

Critics argue that the city has already implemented a zone à faibles émissions, or ZFE, which limits the access of more polluting vehicles to the centre, and the new flat rate ticket could strain the already crowded metro system.

The Bordeaux urban transport system carried 171 million passengers in 2022, some 470,000 each day.

“We have to give the network a chance,” said President of Bordeaux Métropole Alain Anziani in Le Figaro. “I have been fighting for this project for three years.”

The city has plans to invest in expanding the metro service by 2030.

Read also: Driving in France: Where must you have a Crit'Air pollution sticker?

Road travel updates

Mont Blanc tunnel shut at night for maintenance

The Mont Blanc tunnel will be closed to traffic at night from September 18.

No vehicles will be able to go through the tunnel from 22:00 to 6:00 on Mondays to Thursdays due to scheduled repairs. No end date has been announced for the night closures.

The tunnel is also scheduled to close completely at a later date for seven weeks.

The date for this has yet to be announced.

The repair work, which was initially scheduled to last 15 weeks and include renovation of the tunnel’s ceiling, will concentrate on replacing the tunnel’s 76 ventilation turbines.

Air travel updates

Volotea Number 1 for domestic flights in France

Spanish low cost airline Volotea is now the number one airline for domestic flights in France, beating Air France in its home skies.

Volotea now operates 68 routes in France, flying directly between regional airports. The Spanish airline makes 60% of its revenue from this market.

“In 2023, we expect to transport six million passengers,” company founder Carlos Muñoz told Le Monde.

“The traditional companies have decreased their presence on the domestic regional market, instead concentrating on routes to their hubs”

Under pressure from the French government to reduce the carbon emissions due to short haul flights, Air France stopped flights from Lyon, Bordeaux and Nantes in 2021.

Air France gets five stars for passenger experience

Air France has been awarded a five star rating for passenger experience by the Airline Passenger Experience Association.

In an independent review of more than one million flights and 600 airlines, the French national airline was awarded the top rating for passenger experience in the international air travel category alongside Etihad and American Airlines.

Read more: Why Americans are choosing Air France flights over US airlines

British Airlines was awarded a four star rating.

The top low-cost operators included Westjet, Breeze, GOL and Sun Country Airlines.

Ryanair and Easyjet did not feature in the top airlines for passenger experience.

Delays in French airports

Around 26 million people took flights from French airports this summer, however almost half arrived late at their destination, according to a report by Airhelp.

The company, which specialises in compensation claims for delayed flights, has compiled a list of the best and worst French airports for delays, compiled using flight and passenger information for airports which offer more than 200 flights each month.

The best airports were:

  • Nantes Atlantique: 800,000 passengers, 73% on time

  • Toulouse Blagnac : 1 million passengers, 71% on time

  • Bordeaux – Mérignac : 967,000 passengers, 70% on time.

The worst airport is France’s busiest, Paris’ Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, where over half (51%) of its nine million passengers suffer delays.

Airhelp found that a total of 11 million passengers were delayed at French airports between June 1 and August 31, which amounts to 41% of passengers in summer 2023.

Delays have been getting worse over the past few years, with 31% of passengers delayed in 2019 and 40% in 2020.

Ferry travel updates

Cork to Roscoff in the winter

The Cork to Roscoff ferry link will operate this winter as Brittany Ferries celebrates the 50th anniversary of the service.

The ferry, Armorique, will carry passengers each weekend through November and December, with tickets available from €179 each way for a car and two reclining seats, or from €210 for an en suite cabin.

In previous years, Brittany Ferries stopped the service between November and March each year.

Brittany Ferries plans to assign another ship to the route from March 2024, doubling the weekly crossings through summer and autumn.

Etias updates

Etias: Maximum 96-hour delay to get authorisation, valid three years

More details have been announced by the European Commission concerning the European Travel Information and Authorisation System, or Etias, that will be introduced in 2024.

Those travelling from 59 countries outside of the EU, including travellers from the US and UK, will require an Etias to enter the Schengen area.

Travellers from countries that currently require a visa for travel to the EU will not be affected by the Etias system. They will still require a visa.

Etias will allow travellers to visit all 30 countries of the Schengen area. The announced plans include:

  • €7 fee for people aged between 18 and 70

  • 90 days travel in the wider Schengen area

  • Valid for three years

  • Multiple visits while the Etias is valid

  • Granted within 96 hours, unless particular security measures are required

Note that it is not currently possible to apply for this.

For more information visit the official European Union Etias website.

The European Commision also plans to introduce the electronic Entry/Exit system by 2025.

This system will rely on the implementation of an electronic database for all individuals entering or leaving the Schengen area.

Data will include the individuals’ travel plans, facial and fingerprint scans and travel documents, which may be consulted by police.

Passengers will also be able to review their own data, where they will see exactly how long they may remain in the Schengen area.

Read more: 59 countries affected by new EU visa-free scheme, launch date awaited