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French state orders 15 high-speed trains to save factory

The French government has confirmed that it will order 15 high-speed TGV trains in a bid to prevent the historic Alstom train-building plant from closing.

French state orders 15 high-speed trains to save factory
Photo: AFP

The announcement was made by France's secretary of state for industry Christophe Sirugue on a visit to the Alstom factory in Belfort, eastern France.

Normally the state-owned rail operator SNCF would be in charge of ordering new trains but given the plight of the Belfort factory and the small matter of a looming presidential election the government has chosen to act on its own.

As well as the 15 TGVs that will serve the intercity lines between Bordeaux and Marseille and between Montpellier and Perpignan.

These are not actually high-speed LGV (Lignes a Grande Vitesse) rail lines suitable for TGV trains, but the government envisages them being upgraded in the future.

The factory will also build six trains that will run from Paris to Turin and Milan that had already been planned for.

The bill for the government is believed to be worth some €500 million. 

As part of the agreement Alstom will invest €40 million ($45 million) in the plant.

In another move by the government the Belfort factory will also be given the job of building electric buses in a partner ship with car giant Peugeot. And the site will also become the main centre for train maintenance .

The state rail operator SNCF has also ordered 20 diesel locomotives for repair work on trains.

The government was forced to act to save the factory after Alstom, which is 20-percent owned by the state, and announced last month it would halt production at the factory in eastern France by 2018.

The government swung into action, promising that the factory would be saved, only for Alstom to fire back that it would be “impossible” to continue operations at the site.

(AFP)

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the plan to close a plant where Alstom built its first steam train in 1880 was “out of the question”.

Valls said the government was determined to keep the plant open and was working to generate new orders for a site where 400 people are employed.

President Francois Hollande added a pledge that the government would do “all it can to ensure that the Belfort site can keep going… for many years.”

But that was not enough for Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge, who insisted that the firm had “maintained production at Belfort as long as we could”.

A lack of orders “now makes a long-term future for activities of the Belfort site impossible,” Poupart-Lafarge said in a message to employees.

With a presidential election looming next year, the tug-of-war over the Alstom factory will bring back painful memories for Hollande.

In his 2012 election campaign, Hollande promised he would keep open an ArcelorMittal steel plant in the eastern town of Florange.

When it closed in 2013 despite his efforts, the sacked workers accused the government of betraying them.

The Belfort factory has a similar resonance for an entire region — the town's slogan is: “Alstom is Belfort, Belfort is Alstom.”

Not only was the company's first steam train built there, it also produced the first of the TGV high-speed trains in 1978, riding a wave of national pride at a project that was the envy of the rest of Europe.

To this day, every TGV locomotive is assembled at Belfort.

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TOURISM

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.

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