A Strap-Hanging, Low-Cost TGV by 2012?

Taking a leaf out of Ryanair’s book, France’s prestigious luxury high-speed Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) is planning a charge-for-the-loos, standing-room only, strap-hanging, low-cost service from 2012.

Low-cost TGV service ahead? Here comes standing-room only, beer-and-sandwiches and cattle-class seating.

Ouf, not what the Paris-Cannes travelling set expects!

Describing “low cost” flights as a great success, the SNCF Board July 6 unveiled a plan to adopt a low-cost TGV policy and cash in on a strategy pioneered by the airlines .

So can we expect last minute web-based midnight auctions offering a single to Monaco for 1 euro — something the Irish operator does on many different routes? Umm … not quite, but the TGV operator does plan to run entire “low cost” trains and sell travel options in a way that maximises profitability for state railway operator SNCF.

The “low cost” at the heart of the strategy involves, says SNCF, structural changes to the trains “to accommodate a larger number of passengers” (code in all liklihood, for human freight in standing room only, after all Ryanair recently applied for a license to carry standing-only passengers)!

According to Le Monde one way SNCF proposes to optimize the number of seats squeezed into its down-market train is, sacre bleu, to remove the bar and dining car! SNCF says its current catering arrangements, where TGV onboard food service is outsourced, makes a hefty loss. Thus the low cost solution is to replace platters of foie gras and the best Sauternes with …. a cramped cheap seat plus a bring-your-own sandwich pack et voilà .

And that is not all. Further savings will be achieved thanks to the Internet. Seats on “low cost” trains will only be sold as “e-tickets” reserved and paid for online. The passenger will print his own ticket and a bar code reader will validate the ticket on the platform before boarding, just as such machines currently validate normal train tickets everywhere in France. Thereafter, says SNCF, show your ID card and e-ticket to the controller and jump on board …. to join the scrum, although SNCF didn’t say the last bit!

Additional technology tricks involving booking via mobile phones are also in the pipeline. The high speed sardine train is designed to bring together groups of travellers already booking other TGV promotional tickets – and be in place by 2012. The company says the current price of an average TGV single trip is 42 euros on average but there are special offers on current luxury trains such as the good value Lille-Marseille round-trip at 19 euros.

But it is likely you can say farewell to the comforts of a luxury TGV and its haute cuisine diner for the 19 euros bargain once the sardine sandwich-pack version comes on stream.

SNCF hastens to add that none of this means the premium services end of the market is being abandoned. There are still “TGV-Pro” offers (book a taxi or a parking space with your ticket, special catering, access to luxury lounges in stations).

However new competition is looming and TGV is moving to meet the challenge. From 2011-2012 competition will arrive in the form of the Trenitalia-Chambery to Milan and Genoa-Paris-Marseille-Lyon-Paris, or Deutsche Bahn Paris-Brussels-London trains. These rivals will build on the quality of onboard service and probably also on an aggressive marketing policy.

TGV is ready …. at both ends of the market!

Video is of a record-breaking TGV trip. On the 3rd of April, RFF, ALSTOM and SNCF set a new world rail speed record of 574.8 km/h. Official website

Story: Ken Pottinger

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