New French flights, Brittany train boost, ferry row: 8 travel updates

We also look at plans for more competition on the Lyon-Paris TGV route

Planes, trains, green buses… our weekly travel wrap of France’s biggest transport stories
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1. RENFE to run five trains per day between Paris-Lyon in 2024

Spain’s state-owned rail operator RENFE wants to run at least five trains per day on the Paris-Lyon corridor starting next year, according to reports in Capital (in French).

After starting its direct Lyon-Madrid and Marseille-Barcelona lines this month, the rail operator is keen to expand further into the French market.

Its key aim will be to run trains on France’s busiest intercity route – which already sees one foreign company, Trenitalia, running services between the two cities.

Although an exact start date for the trains is unknown, it is expected to come into operation in ‘early’ 2024, long before the Olympic Games held in Paris over the summer.

Out of the five daily trains, two could be extended down to Marseille, creating further competition between France’s national train operator SNCF and RENFE.

The final expansion plan for 2024 would see direct trains between Paris–Barcelona and Marseille-Madrid run by the Spanish company.

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

2. Train travel in Brittany enjoying a surge of popularity

Train travel to Brittany has increased dramatically, with SNCF offering an extra 100,000 tickets to cope with demand this year.

Around 1.4 million tickets were sold in just two months (covering the summer and autumn periods) for trains to and within the region, as tourists take a turn away from the south of France.

Ticket sales to the region were already extremely high: in 2022, they were 15% higher than their 2019 counterpart (the last non-Covid year, often now the benchmark for comparing passenger numbers).

“There are already a lot of bookings for July, as we are welcoming both work-related travellers and holidaymakers," said Franck Dubourdieu, director of the TGV-Atlantique route, which connects the west of the country to the capital.

“Brittany is clearly very popular,” he added, with potential passengers “in the process of enquiring and booking,” the final seats left for August travel to the region.

SNCF is compensating for the increased pressure by servicing their trains directly in Nantes and Bordeaux, instead of taking them to maintenance stations in more rural areas or back in the capital, effectively wasting a journey.

Alongside high-speed travel, local TER services (run under the BreizhGO name) are seeing increased demand, and are offering local discounts including free travel for under 26’s for part of the summer.

Family passes allowing a week of unlimited travel in the region, as well as a 50% discount on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday travel between July 18 and August 24, are also increasing passenger numbers on the local routes.

Even if temperatures do soar, both the TER and TGV services are ready, having stocked up on water bottles and spare parts for air conditioners to ensure customers do not get too hot on their trains.

Read more: France overtourism: five alternatives to the most popular destinations

3. Headache for passengers after Ryanair flight cancelled

The abrupt cancellation of a Ryanair flight between Limoges-Bellegarde airport and Bristol left passengers with no alternative but hefty hotel and taxi fees as they were forced to stay in the nearby area on short notice, reports Capital.

The flight, originally scheduled for 21:40 on July 2, was originally delayed by thirty minutes, due to the aircraft arriving late to the airport.

Knock-on effects from the delay meant that by the time the plane was ready to depart, there were no Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) to allow the flight to run (ATCs are subject to strict working laws and cannot work abrupt overtime).

When it became clear no flight could depart from the airport, the airline offered passengers a flight from nearby Bordeaux instead – but a bus to take passengers to the airport could not be located.

It was only after midnight that passengers were officially told the flight would not depart and they were forced to book into any nearby hotels they could find.

Read more: Mid-sized French airports ‘too reliant on cheap flights’, report finds

4. Easyjet begins Bordeaux-Toulon flight

Budget airline Easyjet has launched a new internal flight linking Bordeaux and Toulon.

Two flights a week (on Fridays and Sundays) will link the cities, with prices starting from €35 one-way, with the first flight leaving on June 30.

It means Easyjet now operates flights to 33 destinations from Bordeaux-Mérignac airport, including to eight destinations in France – Ajaccio, Bastia, Figari, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, as well as Toulon.

The announcement of the new flight calls into question the efficiency of the so-called ‘internal flight ban’ introduced by the French government in Spring.

The ban states that flights shorter than two hours – where a direct rail line connects the cities in under 2.5 hours and has sufficient trains offered per day – can no longer be on an airline’s roster.

So far, however, it has only led to the cancellation of three routes (Paris-Orly to Bordeaux, Nantes and Lyon airports), due to the narrow restrictions.

Between Bordeaux and Toulon, for example, there are no direct trains, and the average travel time via rail is more than six hours.

Read more: Is France really respecting the ban on short domestic flights?

5. SNCF wants solar to power stations and trains

France’s rail operator SNCF wants to install 1,000 hectares of solar panels by 2030, aiming to cover up to 20% of its energy output through solar power.

The company aims to install the panels on car park rooftops and station buildings, as well as on land it owns - the SNCF is France’s second-largest landowner after the government - at an estimated cost of €1 billion.

Installation work will start this year at around thirty sites, with the Grand-Est region being touted as a major site for the panels.

The power will be used mostly to cover the energy needs of stations and other infrastructure. Some will be used to run trains – 80% of the SNCF’s fleet is electric.

The project is being headed by a new subsidiary, SNCF Renouvelables, which will oversee the project aiming to make the state-owned railway operation one of the largest producers of solar power in the country.

The company will also sell excess energy produced in off-peak hours (when there is less demand from the SNCF itself) to provide an additional revenue stream and help finance modernisation projects across France’s rail lines.

The project has been hailed as a combination of “the useful with the pleasurable" because it "lowers bills and strengthens infrastructure,” said Agnès Pannier-Runacher, France’s Minister for Ecological Transition.

SNCF also pledged they would purchase panels made in Europe “whenever possible.”

A second phase of solar panel installation could eventually see them installed on tracksides free of heavy traffic, although this has not yet been confirmed.

Read more: France solar panels: How do I connect them to grid and sell my energy?

6. Senators call for €100 billion overhaul of public transport

Two Senators have filed a report calling for more than €100 billion in funding to help turn France’s public transport systems eco-friendly.

Hervé Maurey (from the centrist UDI group) and Stéphane Sautarel (Les Républicains) said the current model for funding public transport systems in France is “unsuitable” for the ecological transition.

“The imperatives of the ecological transition presuppose a real shock to the supply of daily public transport,” they said in their Senatorial report for the autorités organisatrices de la mobilité (AOM) – who manage local public transport systems.

Current funding for local public transport - largely made by company contributions and local authority spending - will not be enough to help maintain the current level of mobility whilst ensuring a reduction in CO² emissions.

Currently, around 7% of France’s CO² emissions are caused by public transport trips.

Their report suggests state intervention totalling “more than €100 billion”, with around half of this earmarked for Paris and the surrounding regions, with financing coming by 2030.

It further argues the state must fund public transport in sparsely populated areas by €700 million to maintain routes that might be cut under the guise of eco-friendly motives.

The government, which currently only funds around 1.6% of local AOM revenue “is abandoning the AOMs to their fate financially,” the report adds.

In particular, they highlight buses, urging the government to help turn the national bus fleet green – especially as the EU is currently considering proposals to ban petrol and diesel buses.

Finally, they are urging the government to fund the majority of the planned RER commuter rail expansions instead of shunting the costs to local authorities.

Alternative sources of funding for the €100 billion scheme (separate from the planned €100 billion investment in national rail lines) would include further opening up the French railways to competition.

The report also calls for additional taxes on motorway companies, e-commerce deliveries, and the profits of the new transportation systems themselves.

Read more: Tax aviation and roads to fund French rail upgrades, says SNCF boss

7. Irish Ferries responds to ‘social dumping’ claims

Ferry company Irish Ferries have responded angrily to claims made by competitors over the alleged use of ‘social dumping’.

In May, Brittany Ferries accused its rivals of engaging in the phenomenon – which sees loopholes used to hire cheaper workers on their boats – allowing them to undercut companies that hire using EU regulations.

The Irish company has hit back, however, particularly over the wages paid to their workers.

“According to the authors of this text, our seafarers are subjected to sordid exploitation and are paid only a few pounds a day, which would make our company a modern-day slave-trading company,” said director Andrew Sheehan, looking to “rectify” the complaints.

“On the contrary… the minimum monthly wage for our lowest classification is €3,382 (based on a 30-day month), which in no way constitutes ‘a few pounds a day’,” he added.

Brittany Ferries’ original article also attacked the labour conditions at its rivals, saying “[employees are] working up to seventeen weeks at sea, seven days a week… have no social protection, no pension rights, no paid holidays and no adequate recuperation time.”

Mr Sheehan also responded to these allegations, and said “We also offer full benefits to the crew of our ships, including full compensation for travel time, costs, food, accommodation, uniforms, training and agency fees.”

“Irish ferries and our suppliers adhere to all European Union, International Maritime Organisation and International Labour Organisation regulations and guarantee competitive wages and favourable working conditions,” he added.

Read more: Eurostar hope, faster flight refunds, TGV row: 8 French travel updates

8. Qatar Airways flying two new French routes

Two new direct flights linking French regional cities with Qatar will take off this July.

The first, between Lyon and Doha, started on Monday (July 3), with the second between Toulouse and the Qatari capital beginning on July 18.

There will be four flights per week from Lyon and three from Toulouse.

It means Qatar Airways will fly four routes between France and Doha – flights to Paris and Nice were already included in the airline’s roster.

The new routes - with flight times of around six or seven hours - are expected to “stimulate tourism and business travel between the two countries,” said Qatar Airways in a statement, as well as boost Doha’s reputation as an international flight hub situated between Asia and Europe.

The surprise announcement came in part from the quicker-than-expected end to the dispute between Qatar Airways and Airbus, over paintwork on the latter’s planes for the airline.

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