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Here 'Ouigo' - France launches low-cost trains

Published: 19 Feb 2013 10:00 GMT+01:00

SNCF opened its online booking service for its new budget train service 'Ouigo' on Tuesday although the no-frills service, inspired by the budget airline model, will not start transporting passengers until April 2nd. The new trains will link Paris and Lyon to Marseille and Montpellier on the south coast.

In a bid to tempt travellers away from airlines, the company is offering tickets starting at just €10.

"This new offer is for the 4 million people living on the outskirts of Paris who are currently more likely to take their car than the train," said SNCF chief Guillaume Pepy.

 The comparisons with the EasyJet and Ryanair model do not end with cheap tickets. Trains providing the budget service will have no first-class section, no café or bar, and less free space, in order to take on 1,200 passengers, 20% more than a normal TGV service.

In addition, ‘Ouigo’ patrons can expect to have to cough up extra if they want to take a second piece of luggage on their journey across France.

In another move from the Ryanair playbook, 'Ouigo' services will depart from and arrive at stations outside the major cities of Paris and Lyon, which means travelers should factor in the added cost of connecting, for example, Marne-la-Vallée to the city of Paris itself - a 30 km journey.

Trains will arrive however in the city centre station's in Marseille and Montpellier, 3h 15min and 3h 35min after leaving Paris.

Each year 400,000 seats will go on sale at just €10 with a further one million costing just €25. Prices will rise depending on demand until they reach a maximum price of €85.

SNCF, which runs the high-speed TGV service, does already offer cut-price ticketing – in the form of 'TGV Prem's' and 'iDTGV' – but customers often have to book months ahead of time to avail of the savings. 'Ouigo', however, will allow passengers to make their travel plans a week or so in advance, but still keep their expenses low.

Despite this, SNCF director of 'voyages', Barbara Dalibard has already confidently announced that the company expects to sell one million ‘Ouigo’ seats every year.

This latest gambit from SNCF comes after Air France announced in January that it was launching 'Hop!', its low-cost challenge to Ryanair and easyJet.

For a Friday trip from Paris to Marseilles, booked three months in advance, ‘Ouigo’ compares favourably with other means of transport in terms of price.

The classic, high-speed rail journey with TGV will set you back €72, while an Air France flight and a seat with the car-sharing service ‘Covoiturage’ both cost €50.

A Ryanair ticket, at €34, is slightly cheaper than a cut-price iDTGV rail ticket, at €35.

But if economy is the priority, travellers should look to the TGV Prems service, and the newly-launched ‘Ouigo’, with both tickets costing €25, according to an SIA Conseil report published in French daily Le Figaro on Monday.

To book tickets wisit Ouigo site by clicking here.

Dan MacGuill (dan.macguill@thelocal.com)

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