French rail service among best in Europe

France has been commended for the quality of its rail service, which has been ranked as the fourth best in Europe, a new US study has revealed. It's a result that might leave many regular rail users in the country perplexed.

French rail service among best in Europe
Commuters wait for a train in Paris. Photo: AFP
If you were on the TGV from Nancy to Paris that was delayed by six hours this week then you might not want to read this.
And if you are a regular user of the RER commuter service in and around Paris, then you might not believe it.
But a global study released on Tuesday has commended the quality of the country's rail service.
In fact, the Boston Consulting Group which carried out the study found that France's rail service was ranked fourth best in the continent although it had the same overall score as third-placed Denmark.
France's neighbour Switzerland was found to have the best rail service in Europe, with Sweden coming in second.
When it came to the "quality of service" category, France performed even better and achieved the second highest score in Europe, behind Spain. This takes into account the speed of the trains, the quality of the travel compared to the price, and even the punctuality of the train.
The report noted that only around one in ten TGV trains arrives more than 15 minutes late. While this might be irritating for ten percent of France's commuters, they may take comfort to learn that one in four trains in countries like Portugal, Poland, and Ireland are equally late. 
But rail user groups in France doubted the findings of the study and insisted there was a real need for investment in certain services.
"If France is ranked among the best in Europe then things must be pretty bad in other countries,' Jean-Claude Delarue from the group SOS Usagers told The Local.
"If we are talking about just the TGV service then I am not surprised by the findings, but we should ask those who use the commuter trains in the Paris suburbs everyday, what they think [about the quality of service].
"The TGV is generally a good service, although there are some problems, but there is a real need for investment in commuter and regional lines especially when it comes to maintenance," he added.

(A graph from BCG shows how the rest of Europe fared)
Overall France's rail system was ranked in the top tier alongside those of Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Germany.
Great Britain, meanwhile, was among the second-tier countries. Despite having the highest safety rating along with Denmark, it recorded a poor quality-of-service rating and a middle range rating for its intensity of use.

(A graph from BCG shows how the rest of Europe fared in 2015 compared to the last study in 2012)
Agnes Audier, another co-author of the report, said the promising results were a result of France investing around €180 per resident into its railways every year. 
"The countries that performed very well in our ranking are those where a lot of money is invested," she told Europe 1. 
The Boston Consulting Group investigated the most effective model for allocating public subsidies between infrastructure managers and train-operating companies.
"Our study indicates that the model for allocating public subsidies correlates with a railway system’s performance," said report co-author Sylvain Duranton. 
"Simply put, countries that get the most value from public spending on railway systems also allocate the highest percentage of subsidies."
France's SNCF rail operator has no intentions of slipping in the rankings either, with future plans to renew 1,000 kilometres of railway as a priority over renovating the stations, the channel reported. 
The third-place ranking may come as a surprise to France's train users, many of whom have been left flummoxed in the past by a slew of problems on the rails. 
These include passengers being left inside delayed trains for hours, rail strikes that can last as long as 12 days, and a monumental and costly gaffe that saw hundreds of trains ordered that were too wide for around 1,300 platforms, all of which needed to be adjusted. 

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9 things you might not know about the TGV as France’s high-speed train turns 40

France's high speed intercity train is celebrating its 40th birthday, so here are some more unusual facts about the much-loved TGV.

9 things you might not know about the TGV as France's high-speed train turns 40
Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

In 1981, President François Mitterrand officially inaugurated the first high-speed rail line connecting Paris and Lyon. A few days later, a bright orange TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse, French for “high-speed train”) raced down the tracks at over 200km/h.

In celebration of the TGVs landmark birthday, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Pierre Farandou – President of the SNCF, France’s national railway company – were on Friday at the Gare de Lyon in Paris to unveil the ‘TGV of the future’.

In front of a full-scale model of the new TGV M, Macron hailed a prime example of “French genius” and promised to unlock €6.5 billion to develop the TGV network, including new lines serving cities such as Nice and Toulouse.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about taking the train in France

Emmanuel Macron (right) delivers a speech next to a life-size replica of the next TGV high-speed train at Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP

“We’re going to continue this grand adventure with new industrial commitments,” since more people are looking beyond metropoles to smaller cities – an apparent allusion to post-Covid prospects.

“We see clearly that life and work are going to be restructured, and that our fellow citizens today want to organise their time for living and time for working differently,” he said.

The streamlined version of the bullet train promises to carry more passengers – up to 740 passengers from 600 – while using 20 percent less electricity.

It will continue to whiz people between cities at a top speed of 320 km/h, making most door-to-door trips shorter and cheaper than on airplanes.

To celebrate the birthday of the TGV (which in French is pronounce tay-shay-vay) blowing out its 40 candles, here are a few fun facts about the super-speedy trains.

Patrick  – That’s the name of the first TGV. Built in 1978 and set into action in 1981 on the Paris-Lyon line, the bright orange Patrick travelled some 13.5 million kilometres before taking his well-earned retirement last year.

574.8 km/h – That’s the world rail speed record, held by the Alstom V150 TGV. Although Japan’s superconductor-powered Maglev (magnetic levitation) trains travel faster – with a record of 603 km/h – they technically don’t run on rails.

3 – That’s how many times the TGV has set the world rail speed record: in 1981 (380 km/h), 1990 (515.3 km/h) and 2007 (574.8 km/h). 

2,734 km – That’s the total length of France’s high-speed rail network, with even more lines set to be constructed in the future. This means France has the fourth-longest high-speed rail network in the world, behind China, Spain, and Japan. 

0 – That’s how many passengers sit aboard the IRIS 320, which travels some 1,500 km every day. Laden with cameras and scanners, this 200-metre-long TGV rapidly inspects the state of the TGV’s train lines in order to ensure travellers’ safety and security.

€7 – That’s how much it costs to take a small pet – including a snail – on the TGV. Animals, even tiny ones, need their own tickets. In 2008 a TGV passenger fined for carrying live snails in his luggage without a ticket for his animals, although the fine was later waived after the story received national attention.

240 That’s the number of stations served by the TGV network. 183 of these stations can be found in France. The others are located in Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. 

3 billion – That’s how many travellers the TGV had hoped to reach by the end of 2021. The pandemic may have derailed their plans slightly, but the service is still looking strong. The network served it’s 2 billionth passenger in 2012, just over 30 years after its launch.

1947 – the last year without a single recorded strike on the rail network in France. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that pre-1947 was a golden age of industrial relations – just that SNCF’s records are incomplete before then.