What difference will new Italian trains make to rail travel in France?

A bright red high-speed train pulls into a railway station
Trenitalia's Frecciarossa trains will soon be running twice a day between Paris and Milan, via Lyon. Photo: Piero Cruciatti / AFP
A red-liveried rival is ready to take on France's TGV trains on one lucrative line from Paris, breaking SNCF’s long-running stranglehold on the country's high-speed rail services.

Italian company, Trenitalia, is set to start running services on the lucrative high-speed Paris-Lyon line from December 18th.

Tickets for the twice-a-day Frecciarossa (“Red Arrow”) service on the Paris-Lyon-Turin-Milan line went on sale on Monday, December 13th, starting at €23 in standard class, and €29 in business class. 

It will also offer a more exclusive ‘Executive Class’ ticket at €139 for Paris-Lyon and €165 for Paris-Milan, which includes an à la carte meal with waiter service and seating in a carriage that just 10 seats. A meeting room equipped with electrical outlets and a 32-inch flat screen, for meetings of up to five people, is also available.

A third daily train is expected to enter service later, Trenitalia said, while it confirmed that it has been looking at setting up operations on other French TGV lines. The company has yet to make a ‘concrete’ decision on any expansion.

The Italian rail operator has promised that its standard class tickets will be “sold at low prices” in an attempt to match SNCF’s budget Ouigo rail service, where ticket prices start at €16. Both Trenitalia and Ouigo ticket prices increase according to demand. Shortly after sales of the first tickets opened, the cheapest standard class seat available on the new service was €39, BFMTV reported.

SNCF, meanwhile, has countered Trenitalia’s Executive class, with a Premium service for business travellers on the Paris-Lyon line, including a personal welcome at the station. Onboard, passengers receive a meal and more comfortable seats. 

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The French company also operates more daily services between the two French cities – one an hour compared with the two to three trains set to be run by the Italian operator. And, as for punctuality, it’s impossible to say for the Paris-Milan service because it hasn’t started running yet. But a former SNCF Networks employee  has pointed out on Twitter that 66.3% of Trenitalia TGVs were on time in 2019, compared to 77.9% for SNCF TGVs.

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