“The classic TGV is dead”, was how one French newspaper signaled the news this week.
The headline was in relation to the official launch of InOui on Thursday by French rail chiefs SNCF.
InOui trains will now steadily be rolled out across the French rail network to replace the old TGV trains.
Although the change is more to do with marketing than any revolution of the French rail system.
InOui trains are basically rebranded TGVs and will act as SNCF's premium high speed service to go alongside the low-cost Ouigo trains that offer budget rail tickets to various cities in France.
InOui trains will be white, grey and a shade of red rather than the traditional blue TGVs whilst the Ouigo trains are pink and turquoise.
The name change fits in with SNCF's branding of all its services around the word “Oui”, which as we all know means “Yes” in French.
SNCF's coach service is called “OuiBus” and its hire car service “OuiCar”.
Passengers might have noticed the booking website voyages-sncf.com has also be revamped and renamed oui.sncf.com.
Some have criticized the choice of name. Jean-Marc Lehu, a lecturer in marketing at Paris Sorbonne university believes that while the “Oui” might be OK for French clientele, it might not strike a chord with international customers.
But what does the change mean in reality?
SNCF believes having two different services will simplify things for passengers, a bit like how Air France is the country's national carrier but it also has its low-cost carrier Transavia to appeal to different clientele.
But it is also motivated by SNCF preparing for the French rail system being opened up to competition in 2021, when rival train companies are expected to vie with InOui and Ouigo for passengers on rail routes around France. SNCF wants to beat the competition before the race has even started.
As part of its image update, SNCF is aiming to attract 15 million more passengers on its high speed trains before 2020. The current TGV service serves 105 million customers each year.
Currently there are around 330 TGV trains n France but in future there will be 280 InOui trains and around 34 OuiGo trains.
While that looks like the number of trains are being cut, SNCF insists the number of places on high-speed trains will actually increase due to the fact all one-level TGV trains will be replaced by double-deckers.
Christian Broucaret, a spokesman from France's main rail users association FNAUT believes the move to split the services between Inoui and Ouigo is, in general, positive for passengers.
“TGV trains used to be considered only for rich people in France but with Ouigo trains the high speed services are open to another sector of the population,” he told The Local.
The spokesman says the move is obviously motivated more by SNCF's need to prepare for the opening up of the railways to competition than by a desire to improve things for passengers but says in general it should be positive.
“They want to saturate the market so other operators cannot find a way in.”
What's the difference between InOui and Ouigo services?
Apart from Ouigo (see pic below) offering passengers cheaper tickets, the quality of the onboard service on InOui trains will be superior. For a start there will be a restaurant coach, where as on Ouigo trains passengers must bring their own refreshments.
And unlike on low-cost Ouigo trains there will be no restrictions on the amount of luggage a passenger can bring on board. However there is less space for luggage on the newly refurbished InOui trains than on the old TGVs.
SNCF is promising wifi on board all InOui trains although if the quality of the wifi on board the new Paris- Bordeaux trains is anything to go, then passengers shouldn't expect too much.
There will also be more plugs to charge phones or plug in laptops and a cleaning service will operate throughout the journey rather than once the train reaches its destination and passengers are off.
And ticket controllers will be transformed into chief stewards like on airplanes. So they will no longer have the job of checking passengers' tickets and will have to attend to their needs instead.
The train stewards have been told to be “attentive”, “kind”, “positive” and “pro-active”.
Tickets will be checked at automatic gates on platforms at rail stations before boarding the trains.
But what about prices?
SNCF insists that prices will not be rising despite InOui being presented as the haute de gamme (top of the range) service.
“A new customer experience with more comfort, more services and more connections, at the same price,” was how Rachel Picard, the managing director of SNCF Voyages described InOui.
For now however rail passengers in France will be forgiven for not noticing much difference to trains at first.
Apart from the new high speed trains on the Paris to Bordeaux line the big rebranding will simply involve giving the old TGVs a lick of paint and a spruce up to improve connectivity and comfort.
Not until 2023, when 100 new high speed trains are due to be rolled out at a cost of €3 billion, will customers really notice the difference.
Currently only 40 TGVs have been rebranded with the InOui design and they are currently only on the Paris to Bordeaux route.
The rebranding will be extended to TGVs that serve the Paris – Lyon line as well as Paris to Strasbourg and then Paris to the Mediterranean coast by the end of the year.
By 2019 TGV trains that serve the west coast cities such as Nantes and Rennes will have the InOui branding. So by 2020 the traditional TGV will indeed be dead.