Toulouse-Spain TGV, €1 Ouigo tickets: Nine French travel updates

Plus a boost for dog owners on cross-Channel ferries, Sunday traffic jam warnings and Air France brings back Paris-Denver flights

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week
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1. Plans for Toulouse-Barcelona TGV service

Catalan officials confirmed plans to open a direct high-speed rail link between Toulouse and Barcelona this week – although they did not say when.

“It is essential that Barcelona and Toulouse have a good rail connection to facilitate the natural relationship between the two neighbouring territories,” said Catalan regional president Pere Aragonès at an event to commemorate the historic link between the Occitanie and Catalan regions.

“Therefore… we are going to promote a high-speed train project between Toulouse and Barcelona,” he added.

The plans come after heavy backlash against low-cost carrier Vueling’s announcement of a direct flight between the two cities last week, which was criticised as an ecological failure when the possibility of a direct rail route exists.

“If air operators propose direct lines, it is because there is a financial market," said the president of the Occitanie region Carole Delga.

"It is not acceptable that, apart from the road, the only proposal is to use planes for public transport,” she added.

A “green pact” was also announced between the two regions to help fight back against the harsh droughts in the region.

Despite the bold words from both sides of the border, little concrete evidence was given for when either the pact or the line would be implemented.

Read also: Work on new controversial motorway in southern France ‘has begun’

2. French airports boss rejects the idea of air travel tax to fund rail improvements

The airline industry has shot back after rail bosses proposed raising taxes on the sector to fund major improvements to France’s railway network.

In February, the French government announced €100billion upgrade plans. But questions were raised over how the project would be funded.

The head of France’s state-owned railway company SNCF, Jean-Pierre Farandou, floated the idea in April of levying additional taxes on air and car travel to fund some of the improvements.

But Augustin de Romanet, CEO of Paris’ airports, has voiced his opposition.

“Airline travel is already taxed a lot,” he said. “In transport, there is no sector that pays more autonomously for its own infrastructure than the airline sector… We pay for 100% of our own infrastructure,” Mr de Romanet told FranceInfo.

“Airports do not benefit from any subsidies [unlike trains],” he added.

“I therefore ask the economic sectors that benefit from state aid, in proportions that I will not describe here, not to worry about taking funds from the neighbour's plate when they themselves live partly on public subsidy.”

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

3. Sunday is expected to be ‘busiest day on French roads’ so far this year

Traffic information centre Bison Futé has warned motorists to avoid unnecessary journeys on Sunday (May 21).

That is because it is expected to be the busiest day on French roads so far this year.

The bank holiday on Thursday (May 18) and the closure of schools on Friday (May 19) meant many enjoyed a long weekend away.

Heavy traffic was predicted on Wednesday and Thursday as people made a getaway, but the returns are set to be concentrated on Sunday alone.

Bison Futé is warning of gridlock and severe traffic jams on roads leading into cities.

Sunday is one of only two days in the year when it expects traffic to be at its highest across the country – signalled by a level-three ‘black’ warning on its map.

Although car travel will be unavoidable for those returning from a holiday, those who are not coming back from a holiday – particularly if they live in or close to larger cities in the country – are advised to stay off of the roads, both to prevent worsening the situation on the roads and being caught in a traffic jam themselves.

Read more: Heavy traffic warning as France makes most of long weekend

4. Train station on Spanish border converted into luxury hotel

A train station that once served as a link between France and Spain has been converted into a luxury five-star hotel.

The Canfranc station, situated just inside the Spanish part of the Pyrénées, was built in 1928 and was envisaged as a majestic station that would ease travel between the two countries.

The station – for a long time Europe’s second-largest, with a 241-metre-long platform – never lived up to its expectations, however.

This was in large part due to the difference in railway gauges used in France and Spain back in the 20th century, meaning passengers had to switch trains at the station, sometimes seeing lengthy waits.

This, alongside the post-Civil War situation in Spain, saw dwindling numbers of passengers, with the route being largely used for freight trains until an accident on the French side of the track in 1970 closed the link for good.

The new hotel retains the modernist style of the building and includes rail-themed rooms and a restaurant.

There are also plans to renew rail links between the two countries via the route. In 2016, France began running services up to Bedous, a station 30km away from Canfranc on the French border, and regional authorities are looking into financing options.

Read also: ‘Titanic of the Mountains’ to restore Spain rail link

5. France and Ireland to launch joint train-ferry tickets this year

Combined train and ferry tickets to facilitate easier travel will be available to purchase between France and Ireland from September, announced the transport ministers of both countries.

It comes after ferry travel between the two countries increased on average by 48% last year for some providers, and the nations are looking to sustain the increase in travel numbers, focusing in particular on young passengers.

The Rugby World Cup – hosted in France this autumn – is also a factor in the rollout date.

Timetables could see changes to ferry services in four ports – Roscoff and Cherbourg in France, and Dublin and Rosslare in Ireland – and their respective train stations, to decrease travel times and improve passenger experience when combining ferry and rail travel.

The plans are set to be finalised in the coming weeks after the routes are registered with the Organisation intergouvernementale pour les transports internationaux ferroviaires (Intergovernmental Organisation for International Carriage by Rail) on May 28.

It is the first step taken in streamlining combined ferry and train travel between the two countries, with further announcements next year.

Read also: Cruise ship drama as gusts of up to 135km/h cause ferry cancellations

6. Brittany Ferries increases canine capacity

Brittany Ferries’ new eco-friendly ship Guillaume de Normandie will have 21 cabins specifically for dogs and their owners.

The ship – set to replace the Normandie on the Portsmouth-Ouistreham route in 2025 – will also have a kennel, unlike the current ships servicing the route.

The Normandie that is running now only has five cabins for dog owners, meaning the four-fold increase in canine cabins will see fewer passengers forced to leave their dogs in cars during the journey across the English Channel.

The cabins will have special laminate floors, bunk beds, air conditioning, and en suite facilities.

The new ship will have the second-highest number of dog-friendly cabins in the fleet – the Pont-Aven, which sails between Roscoff and Cork, has 28, but this is due to the longer travel times between France and Ireland.

The company reported a 114% rise in pet travel in 2022 and the expansion of pet-friendly services is a sign they intend to double down on one of their unique selling points – low-cost airline carriers servicing UK-France routes do not allow animals, except special assistance ones, on their flights.

Read also: Which non-EU countries are ‘exempt’ from the EU’s pet travel rules?

7. Air France brings back Paris-Denver route

French airline Air France has relaunched its route between Paris and Denver, Colorado.

The route, which will run three times a week, will connect the two cities in a little over nine hours.

Flights will take place seasonally between May and October, with Air France advertising tickets starting at €783.

The route is now the 14th destination Air France flies to in the US, joining other cities like Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Seattle, amongst others.

There are around 200 flights weekly between the two countries offered by the airline, up 20% from summer 2019.

“We are thrilled that Air France have restarted their seasonal direct service to the Centennial State,” said Tim Wolfe, director of Colorado Tourism Office.

The flight is part of Air France’s summer 2023 expansion plans, which also see new services to Africa (such as to Johannesburg) and an increased number of flights to Asian destinations, particularly China.

Read also: Reduce flights and impose curfews at French airports, urge campaigners

8. Ouigo to sell €1 tickets next week

To celebrate the first anniversary of the ‘OUIGO Classique’ service, France’s state-owned railway company SNCF is selling 10,000 tickets for €1.

The tickets will only be available to purchase on Tuesday (May 23) but are expected to sell out quickly.

After this, the remaining tickets will be sold for between €10 and €49, and children’s ones for €5.

The tickets are for trains running in May, June, and July on OUIGO Classique lines.

Launched last year, the OUIGO Classique service provides low-cost alternative travel, but unlike traditional OUIGO services, does not run on TGV (high-speed) routes.

This means trains are slower and more comparable to Intercités services that stop at regional destinations.

The tickets are available for the Paris-Nantes and Paris-Lyon lines.

You can buy €1 tickets for the following destinations from Paris, running on both of the lines mentioned above:

  • Angers
  • Blois
  • Chalon-sur-Saône
  • Chartres
  • Dijon
  • Le Mans
  • Mâcon
  • Melun
  • Nantes
  • Orléans / Les Aubrais
  • Saumur
  • Tours / Saint-Pierre-des-Corps

You can also buy tickets to some stations in the Île-de-France region, as well as stations in the Parisian inner and outer suburbs such as Juvisy, Versailles, Massy, and others)

Tickets will be available to purchase from the website from 7:00 on Tuesday.

Read more: Ouigo launches new low-cost train route between Paris and Perpignan

9. Airlines on high alert over potential summer strikes

After months of strike action in France affected flights in the spring, the airline industry fears a repeat could be in store over the summer, and is calling on Brussels to limit disruptions.

It was claimed around 10 million passengers were affected by the strike action this year, leading Ryanair to organise a petition calling for the EU to keep French airspace open – which as of today has received almost one million signatures.

Airlines4Europe, which represents the commercial interests of a number of airlines including British Airways, Ryanair, Air France, and EasyJet, among others, are calling on the EU to implement measures to limit further disruption this summer.

These include compulsory arbitration before air traffic controllers' unions threaten to strike, 21 days' notice of strike action, and protection for overflights of the country affected by the strike.

It is part of a bid to keep the industry’s resurgence alive – summer sales are up 40% compared to 2022, and airlines are keen to ensure summer travellers face no difficulties.

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