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Could the high-speed rail link between Paris and CDG airport be about to hit the brakes?

Opponents believe the €2 billion allocated to a “train for the rich” should be given instead to the struggling RER B line that already goes to the airport.

Could the high-speed rail link between Paris and CDG airport be about to hit the brakes?
Photos AFP

It doesn’t seem Paris’s highly anticipated Charles de Gaulle Express will be leaving the station anytime soon. 

Valerie Pécresse, President of Ile-de-France’s Regional Council, has asked the French government to postpone the controversial high-speed project given “the urgent need to improve the RER and Transilien commuter lines” first. 

Pécresse, who is also the head of IDF Mobilités, the authority that controls and coordinates the different transport companies operating in the Paris area, will put CDG Express’s deferment up for a vote on Wednesday.

The state-of-the-art project, given the go-ahead back in 2014, was meant to give Parisians and tourists a faster, more exclusive option for getting to CDG airport by train in just 20 minutes. 

But soon after the initial hype commuters on the delay-prone RER B that runs from Charles de Gaulle to the southern Ile-de-France communes of Robinson and Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse started to feel left out as well as priced out, given that the Express ticket is forecast to cost €24. 

RER B travellers number 900,000 daily compared to the prospected 20,000 for the CDG Express. Their commute is twice as long as CDG Express’s and their travel is often marred by day-long service cancellations, regular delays and overcrowded carriages.

In a petition signed by nearly 7,000 people, RER B users are calling the €2 billion budget for the construction of the CDG Express to be allocated to improving their line, the second busiest in Europe .

Pécresse also raised the matter of whether the high-speed line could actually be built in time for the Paris 2024 Olympics as planned, and whether in doing so it would “degrade the quality of service on the RER B, H, K, E and P lines”.

“Even if the benefits of the CDG Express for the appeal of our region are real, the construction work involved in this project with its current schedule could permanently deteriorate the daily life of millions of French people,” she told journalists.

“The 900,000 daily RER B passengers must take priority”. 

The CDG Express is planned to run from Gare de L'Est, rather than the nearby Gare du Nord station that currently connects the airport to the city by the RER B.

Tourists and airport passengers have long complained about the lack of a direct fast link between the airport and the centre of Paris.

They may well be complaining for a long while yet.

 

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READER INSIGHTS

‘Painful’ – is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Following a survey that said Paris Charles de Gaulle airport was the best in Europe, we asked Local readers what they thought...

'Painful' - is Paris Charles de Gaulle airport really that bad?

Recently, Paris Charles de Gaulle was voted the best airport in Europe by passengers.

The 2022 World Airport Awards, based on customer satisfaction surveys between September 2021 and May 2022, listed the best airport on the planet as Doha, while Paris’s main airport came in at number 6 – the highest entry for a European airport – one place above Munich. 

READ ALSO Paris Charles de Gaulle voted best airport in Europe by passengers

Given CDG’s long-standing reputation doesn’t quite match what the World Airport Awards survey said – in 2009 it was rated the second-worst airport in the world, while in 2011 US site CNN judged it “the most hated airport in the world” – we wondered how accurate the survey could be.

So we asked readers of The Local for their opinion on their experience of Europe’s ‘best’ airport. 

Contrary to the World Airport Awards study, users erred towards the negative about the airport. A total 30.8 percent of Local readers – who had travelled through the airport in recent months – thought it was ‘terrible’, while another 33.3 percent agreed that it was ‘not great’ and had ‘some problems’.

But in total 12.8 percent of those who responded to our survey thought the airport was ‘brilliant’, and another 23.1 percent thought it ‘fine’, with ‘no major problems’.

So what are the problems with it?

Signage 

One respondent asked a simple – and obvious – question: “Why are there so many terminal twos?”

Barney Lehrer added: “They should change the terminal number system.”

In fact, signage and directions – not to mention the sheer size of the place – were common complaints, as were onward travel options. 

Christine Charaudeau told us: “The signage is terrible. I’ve often followed signs that led to nowhere. Thankfully, I speak French and am familiar with the airport but for first time travellers … yikes!”

Edwin Walley added that it was, “impossible to get from point A to point B,”  as he described the logistics at the airport as the “worst in the world”.

And James Patterson had a piece of advice taken from another airport. “The signage could be better – they could take a cue from Heathrow in that regard.”

Anthony Schofield said: “Arriving by car/taxi is painful due to congestion and the walk from the skytrain to baggage claim seems interminable.”

Border control

Border control, too, was a cause for complaint. “The wait at the frontière is shameful,” Linda, who preferred to use just her first name, told us. “I waited one and a half hours standing, with a lot of old people.”

Sharon Dubble agreed. She wrote: “The wait time to navigate passport control and customs is abysmal!”

Deborah Mur, too, bemoaned the issue of, “the long, long wait to pass border control in Terminal E, especially at 6am after an overnight flight.”

Beth Van Hulst, meanwhile, pulled no punches with her estimation of border staff and the airport in general. “[It] takes forever to go through immigration, and staff deserve their grumpy reputation. Also, queuing is very unclear and people get blocked because the airport layout is not well designed.”

Jeff VanderWolk highlighted the, “inadequate staffing of immigration counters and security checkpoints”, while Karel Prinsloo had no time for the brusque attitudes among security and border personnel. “Officers at customs are so rude. I once confronted the commander about their terrible behaviour.  His response said it all: ‘We are not here to be nice’. Also the security personnel.”

Connections

One of the most-complained-about aspects is one that is not actually within the airport’s control – public transport connections.  

Mahesh Chaturvedula was just one of those to wonder about integrated travel systems in France, noting problems with the reliability of onward RER rail services, and access to the RER network from the terminal.

The airport is connected to the city via RER B, one of the capital’s notoriously slow and crowded suburban trains. Although there are plans to create a new high-speed service to the airport, this now won’t begin until after the 2024 Olympics.

Sekhar also called for, “more frequent trains from SNCF to different cities across France with respect to the international flight schedules.”

The good news

But it wasn’t all bad news for the airport, 35 percent of survey respondents said the airport had more positives than negatives, while a Twitter poll of local readers came out in favour of Charles de Gaulle.

Conceding that the airport is “too spread out”, Jim Lockard said it, “generally operates well; [and has] decent amenities for food and shopping”.

Declan Murphy was one of a number of respondents to praise the, “good services and hotels in terminals”, while Dean Millar – who last passed through Charles de Gaulle in October – said the, “signage is very good. [It is] easy to find my way around”.

He added: “Considering the size (very large) [of the airport] it is very well done.  So no complaints at all.”

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