The economic and environmental crisis will undoubtedly have marked a turning point in our travel habits. Night trains, abandoned in recent years, are suddenly relaunched and the city of Paris is well placed to become a “hub” to Europe.
Taking the Paris-Venice or Paris-Rome from Gare de Lyon is a childhood dream for many people. No need to think about airport shuttles, long queues, security checks or facing the fear of flying for some phobics. Whether you leave from Gare de Lyon, Gare de l’Est or Gare d’Austerlitz, it is a question of climbing on a train, crossing the country, the countryside, the mountains in a half-sleep and waking up with a day ahead of you in Barcelona, Rome, Venice or Berlin. In the 1990s, the night train network was very developed, with lines connecting Paris to Berlin, Warsaw to Budapest, Amsterdam to Prague and Paris to Madrid. It was more customary to use this mode of transport rather than the airplane, which was overpriced.
In 1994, there was even a project, called “Nightstar”, the nocturnal equivalent of the Eurostar which would transport passengers through a tunnel dug between London and Madrid. The national territory was, for its part, well served: the tortillards linking Paris to the large cities of the south served many stations on their way… stations where dandelions now grow. Because all that was before… Before the arrival on the market of low-cost airlines (which put Europe – and Toulouse – within reach of all Ile-de-France residents), before buses Macron (for smaller purses), before the pandemic…
Paris, soon one night away from the rest of Europe?
The President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, announced in 2020 that he wanted to “relaunch the night trains”! In recent years, however, the wagons have been stored, the lines closed. The journeys by tortillard, from Paris to Barcelona, Rome, Toulouse have been replaced by TGV, perhaps shorter, but much more expensive. In December 2021, as the European Union celebrates a “year of rail” full of false promises, the Paris-Vienna (in partnership with the Austrian railway company) opened with great fanfare. The line serves Strasbourg, Karlsruhe, Munich and Rosenheim in Germany, Salzburg, Linz, Sankt Pölten and Vienna in Austria. The ticket price ? from 29 to 49 euros.
At national level, the SNCF has also relaunched its night train line between Paris and Lourdes and Paris and Nice (via Marseille, Toulon, Cannes, Antibes and Nice): “Paris Austerlitz, 8:52 p.m., you get on the train, you find your bunk, you settle in for a good night. The next day, 9:11 a.m., you get off on the platform at Nice station, ”she announces with great fanfare. In 2022, no new line should be put back into service. The next link to resume would be the Paris-Aurillac (Cantal), abandoned in 2003. The Prime Minister, Jean Castex, promised, on January 17, 2022, to relaunch this line “within two years”, i.e. before December 2023 This train would consist of three cars which will be separated at Brive-la-Gaillarde (Corrèze) from the cars heading for Rodez and Toulouse, according to the press release. The Secretary of State for Transport, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, wants the night network to have “ten lines” by 2030. According to a report on Intercités de nuit presented to parliamentarians in early 2021, the new lines would revolve around four major “corridors”, three of which cross: Tours-Lyon via Île-de-France, Paris-Toulouse and two interregional connections Bordeaux-Marseille and Dijon-Marseille.
Activity hampered by the lack of a unified European network
With its eight TGV or main line stations (Montparnasse, Lyon, Austerlitz, Nord, Est, Marne-la-Vallée, Massy TGV and Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle), Île-de-France is undoubtedly the crossroads rail in France. While the arrival of the Ouigo offer had already reshuffled the rail transport cards when it was launched in 2013, the opening of competition will accentuate this metamorphosis… and the strong comeback of the night train will allow many Ile-de-France residents with modest budgets to reconnect with travel, even as the air sector announces price increases, linked to the consequences of the health and economic crises and above all to the rise in fuel prices.
The misfortune of some is the happiness of others… What can a sleeper train and the newspaper have in common? The world ? Xavier Niel. Indeed, the businessman has launched with other investors in the race for rail transport by entering the capital of the company “Midnight Trains”, which will soon link Paris to Barcelona, Madrid, Porto, Milan, Venice , Florence, Rome, Berlin, Hamburg, Copenhagen and Edinburgh. Far from the old-fashioned and overheated Intercités, the company will offer what it describes as “mobile hotels”. Marketing is scheduled for 2024 and the prices have not yet been communicated. But if the concept promises to be high-end, the company does not want to offer prices that are too high. These projects and new night train lines, which could bring Paris closer to many cities in the south of France and put the capital at the heart of the European rail map, will not be without complications. the consortium of European journalism Investigate Europe demonstrated in an extensive investigation, published last November, that despite the good words disseminated by the Member States during the year of rail on the benefits of the train on the climate, the political will has not led to the creation of a unified rail network in Europe… and that the return of the night train can only be sustainable by following logics of profitability.