Nervy French rail passengers asked for their last wishes

French rail chiefs have caused a stir for posing a question to passengers about what they’d like to do “before they die” while the country is on high alert for terror attacks.

Nervy French rail passengers asked for their last wishes
Photo: AFP

Some say it's a question of a wrong time and certainly wrong place. For others, including French rail chiefs SNCF, it is unfortunate, but must remain.

Anyone who has passed through Gare de Lyon in Paris will have noticed the big “Before I die” wall, an instillation by an American artist, the likes of which have been placed in cities around the world since 2011.

There are around 1,000 of the “Before I die” boards, by artist Candy Chang, in 70 countries around the world, but it will be less appreciated in France, on edge after 18 months of terror attacks that have claimed the lives of 235 victims.

Rail stations are high on the list of potential terror targets with security having been beefed up in recent months and passengers have been twitchy about the threat ever since a man opened fire on a train from Amsterdam to Paris before being overpowered by passengers.

And some passengers at Gare de Lyon have not appreciated the timing and subject of the new art work.

“It's nonsense. Imagine if they’d put the same thing in an airport,” one traveller told Le Parisien newspaper.

Others were less shocked by the installation and more by what had been written, the content of which is kept a close eye on by SNCF. Any entries deemed offensive or rude are scrubbed out.

Others were more than offended by it.

“Now when we go into a train station we inevitably think of the attacks, so when I saw the words on the wall I was very surprised,” a passenger named Sandrine told Le Parisian newspaper.

“But the substance of the project is basically nice.”

Gare et Connexions, the branch of SNCF that is in charge of the scheme, denied there was any bad taste behind it.

“We have been working on this project for two to three years, so well before the terror attacks,” a spokesperson said.

“There is no link between the two. We did ask ourselves whether we should cancel it, but we decided that life goes on and that people needed to express themselves, and we need a bit of hope in  this world.”

Gare de Lyon has had the board installed on a trial basis and if it proves successful similar ones will be set up at other train stations in France.

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How to find cheap train tickets in France

Travelling by train is one of the best ways to see France - even with a mandatory mask on. Here - from railcards to sales - is how you can make it even better by cutting the cost of your ticket.

A blue high-speed Ouigo low-cost TGV train arriving at  de l'Est railway station in Paris, with the the Sacre-Coeur Basilica in the background
From cheap services to railcards, here's how to save money on train travel. Photo: Joel Saget / AFP

Railcards are the most common way to cut the cost of a ticket. In some cases, the card can even pay for itself in one journey. France’s rail operator SNCF has a range of cards available for everyone from impoverished students to regular business travellers with an expenses account to burn.

But if you’re not a regular traveller there are also a range of offers plus cheaper services to opt for.

Let’s start with the railcards.

Liberté card

This one’s really for business travellers, who use the TGV or Ouigo and Intercite trains regularly. And it comes with a price to match – €399 for a year. This guarantees cardholders 60 percent off SNCF’s Business Première fares when travelling standard class, and  45 percent off Business Première fares when travelling 1st class. Plus, there’s between 25 percent and 50 percent off TER fares in certain regions, and it’s valid for use in other European countries.

Forfait pass

Effectively a season ticket, this one’s for commuters who regularly use TGV INOUI or Intercité services to get to work. Prices vary based on how much you travel, and you can get annual, monthly or weekly passes. Click here for a calculation of how much you will have to pay.

Avantage Senior 60+ card

SNCF relatively recently rebranded its railcards under the Avantage umbrella. If you’re aged 60 or over and travel occasionally with TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER in France, you will save 30 percent on first and standard class travel, for an annual fee of €49. And there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

In fact, standard fares are capped for all destinations in France, no matter when you book. And that’s on top of a 30 percent guaranteed discount on 1st- and standard-class train tickets. 

You’re guaranteed affordable fares, even at the last minute. They’re currently capped as follows:

  • €39 or less for a short journey (under 90 minutes)
  • €59 or less for a medium-length journey (between 90 minutes and three hours)
  • €79 or less for the longest journey (over three hours)

Plus, there are savings on food and drink prices on the train – as well as other perks that are worth looking into.

Avantage Adulte Card

If you’re aged 27-59 and take TGV Inoui, Intercités or TER trains often, it’s worth looking into the Avantage Adulte card – which has replaced the Avantage Weekend and Avantage Famille cards – because you’ll save 30 percent on first and standard class tickets for the annual €49 fee.

Discounts extend to accompanying adults, and there’s 60 percent off ticket prices for up to three accompanying children aged between four and 11.

As with the Senior card, standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Avantage Jeune Card

For anyone aged 12 to 27, the Avantage Jeune card will save you 30 percent on TGV Inoui and Intercité services that require booking for the annual €49 fee.

Standard class fares are capped for all destinations in France. And you get the onboard perks too, including 15 percent off food and drink from the trolley.

Other ways to save money

If you’re not a regular travellers and don’t want a railcard, there are other ways to save money when travelling.

Ouigo trains

SNCF’s low-cost TGV service offers high-speed cut-price travel in and out of Paris to 17 French destinations. There are drawbacks though, the trains have fewer on-board services and some of them only go to stations close to a city, rather than the city-centre station – so it’s worth checking when you book exactly where you will end up.

Children under 12 years of age can travel for €5 all year long, or €8 to or from a station in Paris.

Railcards are valid on Ouigo trains, cutting ticket prices further.

Happy Hour

Be aware of last-minute ‘Happy Hour’ deals on available on select days for selected Intercité trains to a selection of destinations around France. You could save up to 50 percent on ticket prices. And, yes, railcards are valid.

Ticket sales

Watch out, too, for announcements of when tickets are available for sale. From November 3rd, for example, rail tickets are available up to March 27, 2022 – and up to July 2, 2022, for Inoui tickets.

Early booking may get you a good deal, and SNCF offers regular deals particularly around peak travel times such as summer and Christmas. Downloading the SNCF app will get you advance notification of sales.