The French lose 340 million minutes per year due to avoidable train delays, says consumer group

An old and underfunded railway network directly is responsible for delays which are turning French people off train travel, according to a study from consumer group UFC-Que Choisir published on Tuesday.

People check for information on delayed trains in Paris.
People check for information on delayed trains in Paris in July 2021. Photo: Samantha DUBOIS / AFP.

People in France lost 340 million minutes in 2018 due to infrastructure failings, according to the study.

And those are only the avoidable delays. In 2017, the Autorité de la qualité de service dans les transports reported that travellers lost 2 billion minutes every year due to train delays. UFC-Que Choisir’s study found that 17 percent of these delays were due to France’s ageing and deteriorating network of tracks, 

Lack of investment

“The investment strategy pursued since the beginning of the 1980s put extending the network above maintaining exististing infrastructure,” its authors wrote. As a consequence, UFC-Que Choisir estimates, 23 percent of France’s railway network had surpassed its optimal lifespan in 2019.

The group notably pointed towards sections of track where trains are forced to slow down in order to ensure they can circulate safely. The stretches affected by this went from 3,400 km in 2012 to 5,300 km in 2017, according to the report.

The “chronic under-investment” has also had an impact on productivity, according to UFC-Que Choisir, which affirms, “Running a train required 2.8 times more employees and 1.7 times more resources than in neighbouring European countries”. The study claims that the UK is able to run 3.4 times more trains per employee than France.

READ ALSO SNCF set to lose bid for regional French railway line for first time ever

It adds that for the same population, France provides travellers with 37 percent fewer trains than its neighbours.

Small lines

The impact of deteriorating infrastructure disproportionately affects the “small lines” which mainly connect people in rural areas and medium-sized towns. According to the association, these lines are responsible for 70 percent of the sections of track which require trains to slow down, or 22 percent of their length.

“The dilapidation of the infrastructure influences the quality of the service, which accelerates users’ disaffection, in favour of the car, and sets in motion of vicious circle of abandoning trains.”

The report concludes that 40 percent of this secondary network, which represents 17 percent of regional train travel, is at risk of being closed due to a lack of passengers.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Will my French partner need a visa to visit the UK with me?

The UK is set to introduce an Electronic Travel Authorisation scheme in November - so what does it mean for anyone travelling from France?

Will my French partner need a visa to visit the UK with me?

We known about the EU’s long-delayed ETIAS entry requirement for all holidaymakers from non-EU countries – including Britons – which is currently scheduled to come into force in 2024

For now, no precise introduction date has been set for ETIAS, and it may even get delayed again (until after the Paris Olympics if France gets its way).

Meanwhile, the UK is set to introduce its own version – known as Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA). This won’t affect Brits, even if they live outside the UK, but could affect anyone travelling with a non-UK national, even if that person is your registered partner or spouse. 

What’s it all about then?

It is very similar to the EU’s yet-to-be-imposed ETIAS entry system, or the US’s already-existing ESTA visa waiver (if you’ve been to the US recently you will recall having to pay a small fee and fill in an online form).

Travellers heading to the UK from a gradually increasing number of nations will need an ETA to:

  • come to the UK for up to six months for tourism, medical treatment, to visit family and friends, business or study;
  • come to the UK for up to three months under the Creative Worker visa concession;
  • transit through the UK – even without going through UK border control.

There’s a fee for ETIAS. Will there be a fee for the UK’s ETA, too?

Yes. £10. Per applicant. Including minors. The good news is that an ETA will last for two years, and you can use it for any travel to or through the UK during that period.

Unless the passport that it’s linked to runs out in that two-year period. Then it will need renewing.

Who needs one?

Right now, no one needs an ETA. From November 15th, 2023, any national of Qatar travelling to the UK will need one – and will be able to apply for one from October 25th.

Nationals of Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates, will need one to travel to the UK on or after February 22nd, 2024. Applications open from February 1st, 2024.

Nationals of other countries, including France and other EU nations, do not need to apply for an ETA yet – and no dates have been confirmed for its roll-out to other citizens of nations beyond those already mentioned. 

It is, however, anticipated that EU countries will be added. The British government has produced a video explainer on it.

How do I apply?

Remember, you don’t yet. But, as the system is rolled out, you’ll need to apply online at the website, or via an as-yet unavailable UK ETA app.

How long will it take?

The online form should take between 10 to 15 minutes to complete per applicant. Email confirmation of acceptance (or refusal) should take no more than 72 hours. Additional checks may take longer.

Do I still need to bring my passport and/or travel documents when travelling?

Yes. The ETA will be electronically linked to a single passport – and you’ll also need to carry all relevant travel documents. If you renew your passport you will need to apply for a new ETA as well.

Okay… so who doesn’t need one?

It seems that the ETA will gradually be rolled out to all arrivals into the UK, although beyond those countries listed above there is no indication of when that will be.

We do know, however, that the following groups definitely won’t need one;

  • British or Irish passport holders (including dual nationals)
  • Anyone who has permission to live, work, or study in the UK (for example someone with EU Settled Status)
  • Anyone who has a visa to enter the UK.