SNCF, which recently celebrated 40 years of the high-speed TGV train, is now focused on developing a more recent innovation: its budget offer. The low-cost Ouigo trains were first launched in 2013 as a cheaper alternative to the TGV, and have already transported 70 million passengers.
SNCF hopes the low-cost service will account for 25 percent of high-speed traffic by 2025, and that means bringing the Ouigo to new destinations, it announced on Thursday.
From 2023, the Ouigo will connect Brest (via Saint-Brieuc, Guingamp and Morlaix) and Quimper to the centre of Paris, while Perpignan too will serve the capital.
La Rochelle will also get a low-cost service to central Paris from Friday to Monday. “This offer will be strengthened during the summer holidays, and will serve Poitiers, Niort and Surgères,” the group said.
SNCF has promised even more destinations from 2025 thanks to the addition of up to 12 new trains.
Low cost, low speed
SNCF also announced on Thursday the creation of the “Ouigo vitesse classique” (Ouigo classic speed) – trains which will take longer and serve more stops than regular Ouigos. They will use old Corail trains, currently used on many TER and Intercité lines, painted pink to differentiate them from the blue high-speed Ouigo.
Starting next spring, the trains will link 14 destinations across two lines: two different Paris-Nantes routes, both serving Paris Austerlitz; and a Paris-Lyon service starting at Paris Bercy.
The new ‘classic speed’ Ouigo routes. Graphic: SNCF.
The low prices will however come at a different kind of cost.
The Paris-Nantes line, which will see three return trips every day, is estimated to take between three-and-a-half and four-and-a-quarter hours, compared to two to two-and-a-half hours on TGV trains. The Paris-Lyon line, running twice a day in each direction, is set to take between four-and-three-quarters and five-and-a-quarter hours, compared to just two hours on the TGV.
The idea is to attract customers away from cars and long-distance coaches by offering low prices which never change right up until departure.
Prices will start at €10 and go no higher than €30, while children under 12 will pay €5 as is already the case on high-speed lines. Tickets will only be available to book 45 days before departure, compared to nine months for high-speed Ouigo tickets.
Passengers will also have the possibility of paying extra for bike storage, or extra luggage, and since journey times are longer there will be on-board catering.
The airline model
SNCF has also chosen to adopt a new options-based offer on all of its Ouigo services, similar to those used by low-cost airlines.
The operator has announced that from October 6th, passengers will be able to choose between “Ouigo essentiel”, which will include one cabin bag and hand luggage, or paying €7 extra for “Ouigo Plus”, which adds the possibility of choosing your seat, access to wifi and a selection of multimedia content, and priority boarding. This option will apply to trains running from December 12th, and children under 12 will be offered Ouigo Plus at no extra cost.
You will also be able to select any of the optional extras on their own. The option to choose year seat was introduced earlier this year, and SNCF says almost a quarter of passengers chose to pay extra for this over the summer.