New rail line, ferry award, snails slow tram: 8 French travel updates

Also in our weekly travel round-up: a boost for Easyjet, Eurostar introduces facial recognition software and price rises in Paris

Planes, trains, trams.. and snails? This week's property wrap
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1. Plans afoot for a new rail link between Paris and Brussels

French and Belgian state rail operators are looking to open a rail line at “conventional speeds” between Paris and Brussels.

The tentative plans would see Gare du Nord and Brussels Midi linked by a rail line travelling at regular speeds – slower than dedicated high-speed lines, but quicker than driving between the two cities.

“This project for a new relationship is undoubtedly in line with the ambitions of the two operators and the political authorities with a view to meeting their climate objectives,” said France’s state-run railway operator SNCF and its Belgian counterpart, SNCB, in a statement.

“The travellers concerned about protecting the environment will have an additional low-carbon [travel option].”

A feasibility study into the project is currently underway, with a view of opening the route “by the end of 2024”.

The route already has all of the infrastructure required to link the two cities – which are currently already connected by high-speed trains.

Paris and Brussels were the first two capital cities in the world to be connected by rail back in 1846.

Read more: €1 trains, new France-Ireland flight: 9 French travel updates

2. Parisian public transport prices to rise again – but not for tourists?

The cost of travelling on Paris’ public transport system is set to rise again in January 2024, RATP (Régie autonome des transports parisiens), the transport authority in the French capital, has confirmed.

Due to funding requirements, including the costs of expanding Paris’ metro system from 14 to 18 lines, the price of the monthly Navigo pass will increase from next year.

The exact amount of the increase has not yet been specified, but it could be similar to 2023’s increase, which saw the monthly fare jump 12%.

Valérie Pécresse, chairwoman of the Île-de-France Mobilités (IDFM) group that runs public transport in the Paris region, said it was "necessary to increase contributions from local authorities and fare revenues”.

Out of the extra €800 million needed, only €300 million is set to come from local government and authorities, leaving a €500 million gap the group needs to fill.

The group are also looking into “specific fares for visitors to the Olympic and Paralympic Games”, set to be held next summer in the city.

They also hope that fare rises “can be kept to a minimum,” if the government offers alternative funding streams, such as via tax increases on local businesses.

Transport Minister Clément Beaune has said the IDFM “will have new fiscal room for manoeuvre from 2024,” which may see fares rise lower than initially anticipated by the group.

Read also: TGVs among 300,000 low-cost train tickets to go on sale soon in France

3. Brest tram extension could be delayed… due to snails

The construction of the second line of Brest’s tramway could be delayed due to the presence of a protected species of snail on the proposed route.

The colony of Escargots de Quimper - a snail species found in Brittany and northern Spain - has been discovered on the city’s Robert-Schuman bridge, which the tram’s route will cross.

The city is reportedly looking to move the snails to a new location, as they are unwilling to completely cancel the project or re-route the line – which would incur significant additional costs.

The solution may not be so simple, however, as it is not always legal to just move a protected species from its current habitat, and a number of ecological groups have now turned against the project.

Although the final decision on the snails’ fate rests with the prefect, any decision made can be appealed within two months.

The delay will inevitably see costs for the project rise.

“I should point out that we have had a lot of discussions with the environmental associations, who are in agreement with the project,” said Glen Dissaux, vice president of the Brest Metropole authority.

Mr Dissaux said he is happy that groups care enough about the area’s biodiversity but that the project should go ahead.

Brest’s city council has not taken an official stance on the matter yet.

Read more: France-bound travellers warned of two-and-half-hour delays at Dover

4. Brittany Ferries wins travel award

French firm Brittany Ferries has been recognised by readers of a British newspaper.
It won ‘best ferry operator’ in The Daily Telegraph’s annual travel awards. It saw 30,000 readers of the newspaper vote for their favourite destinations, airlines and travel companies.

Brittany Ferries won the award for the seventh consecutive year running, and have kept the award since 2014 (no awards were given in the category during the Covid pandemic).

Swedish firm Stena Line finished runners-up, with Danish company DFDS taking third place, meaning no British or Irish company ranked in the top three spots for the first time in over ten years.

P&O Ferries, who finished runners-up in 2019’s awards, dropped out of the rankings, largely due to the controversy over their mass-firing of employees in 2022.

Read also: EU Council confuses Mont Saint-Michel as being in Brittany

5. Easyjet announce strong profits as Covid recovery continues

Low-cost airline EasyJet has announced pre-tax third-quarter profits of £203 million (€234 million), despite a spring marred by strikes.

The third quarter - the three months to June 30, 2023 - profits are an improvement of more than £300 million (€346 million) on the previous year’s results, showing the company bouncing back after Covid restricted air travel.

The number of passengers using Easyjet grew to 23.45 million, a 7% increase on 2022, and the revenue gained per seat increased by 22%.

These results come despite a number of disruptions for airline companies since the beginning of 2023, which included extended strike action by French air traffic controllers (ATCs).

The strikes affected hundreds of thousands of flights not only to and from France, but those that flew over French airspace, too.

The company says that strike action by ATCs is “up 40% since the start of the year compared with 2019”.

On top of this, estimates for fourth-quarter revenue are strong, with the airline hoping “to deliver another record pre-tax profit performance”.

They also believe revenue per seat to go up by around 10%.

These results may be affected by the almost 2,000 flights the company has so far cancelled over the summer, however, due to strike action.

Read more: EasyJet cancels 1,700 summer flights amid fears of further strikes

6. Facial recognition software installed at Eurostar station

Eurostar has installed a facial recognition system at St Pancras station in London as part of a bid to speed up security measures.

Replacing some staff members, the software will be able to check the identity and tickets of those taking a train from the London terminal to France, Belgium, or the Netherlands.

It is - for now - only being offered to Business Premier or Carte Blanche (a type of loyalty card for Eurostar) ticket holders.

To use the system, people will have to use an app to scan their tickets and take a photo of themselves in advance.

The software will then check this information against the person when passing through the ‘biometric corridor’, where if the scan and photo match, they will be granted entry, without having to physically scan their tickets or have travel documents checked.

Eurostar says the process will “take only two seconds” if the steps are followed correctly in advance, and will allow travellers to skip queues and checks usually faced when using the service.

Luggage will still be checked and French border officials will also check passports.

Read also: Couple in France ‘report fake terror alert to avoid missing train’

7. Lille trials bank card payments at metro gates

Lille has started a four-month trial allowing users of the city’s metro system to pay with their contactless bank card.

Similar to other cities such as London, the trial will see those wishing to use the system able to tap their contactless card onto a reader by the ticket gates to gain entry.

Eight stations across Line 1 and 2 of the city’s metro will allow users to access the network using this method.

Up to five tickets can be purchased using the bank card directly at the entrance barriers to the station. A ticket purchased this way is charged slightly higher – €2 – than the standard €1.80 fare for tickets purchased at a kiosk or ticket machine.

Lille believes it will help ease congestion during busy periods and will be “especially useful to tourists” with up to 250,000 expected in the city during this autumn’s Rugby World Cup.

One potential sticking point is that the tickets purchased via a bank card are not currently transferable to a bus or tram journey – but if the trial is successful, the system could be rolled out across all of the city’s public transportation.

Read also: Marseille’s metro to start making announcements in Provençal

8. Prices rise for French travel card

France’s state-run railway operator SNCF is putting up prices on its card offering reduced train tickets.

The Carte Avantage, which costs €49 a year, offers cheaper fares on TGV, Inoui and Intercitiés trains.

However, from August 29, the cards - for those aged 28-59 - will see maximum ticket prices rise by €10.

For example, long journeys (three hours or more) on high-speed TGV trains are currently capped at €79 for Carte Avantage holders. They will now rise to €89.

Similarly, price caps for journeys shorter than one hour and 30 minutes have risen from €39 to €49, and for medium distance journeys (between one hour 30 minutes and three hours) from €59 to €69.

The new measures do “not change anything for all our customers who do not have this card, or even for most Avantage card beneficiaries, as in most cases they pay less than the maximum price,” said the rail operator.

Those who have alternative versions of the card, such as the Carte Avantage Jeune for those under 28 or the Sénior for those over 60, will not see any changes.

The change is one of a number of belt-tightening measures SNCF say are necessary in the current economic context.

Tickets for TGV trains rose 5% in January, but the company says the real cost was closer to 13% and they “shielded” customers from the brunt of this increase.

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