On board the worthy heir to the Blue Train
French Prime Minister Jean Castex boarded the Paris-Nice night train for his maiden voyage on May 20, leaving Paris Austerlitz station at 8:52 p.m. and arriving in Nice 12 hours later at 9:06 a.m. Initially scheduled for April 16, the inauguration was delayed due to the entry of France into its second Covid-19 containment.
“This launch should highlight a virtuous mode of transport which contributes to the opening up of the territories,” a member of the Prime Minister’s entourage told AFP. “Nice is ultra-connected for the upper classes but less so for students and others.
The Paris-Nice night train is the heir to the legendary Train Bleu, which transported the international jet set to the Côte d’Azur in the early 1900s.
“This first night train is a strong symbol, which signifies the rebirth of this mode of transport that some considered obsolete,” said Jean-Pierre Farandou, CEO of SNCF.
The train of the rich and famous
Originally launched in 1886, Le Train Bleu was one of the world’s first night trains, achieving iconic status during the first two decades of the 20e century.
Departing from Calais and ending in Menton, Le Train Bleu – which takes its name from the blue and gold color of its sleeping cars – linked the north of France to the Côte d’Azur, transporting the rich and famous internationals of the ‘time.
Among the guests of Celebrity Train Bleu were Coco Chanel, Marlene Dietrich, Jean Cocteau and Agatha Christie, who placed one of her novels – The Mystery of the Blue Train – on board.
As reported by France 24, the train was a symbol of extreme luxury, as passengers could enjoy a five-course meal before falling asleep in oak-paneled cars with personal assistants present to satisfy every passenger’s whim.
To open up its services to the less well off, Le Train Bleu added second-class coaches to its service in the early 1930s, stopping during World War II and eventually restarting services in 1946.
In the early 1950s, some of the cars were transformed into a lounge bar, which became a favorite among Blue Train aficionados.
From the 1980s, luxury night trains were replaced by TGV services, which considerably reduced journey times. The Blue Train ceased to exist in 2003 when the SNCF renamed it Service Nuit.
In 2016, the French government decided to cancel night train services, leaving only two routes – Paris to the Pyrenees and Paris to the Alps – and interrupting the Paris-Nice night train in 2017.
The decision was based on the fact that night trains were not making enough revenue as customers chose faster ways to travel across the country, such as high-speed trains and airplanes.
According to the French financial newspaper Les Echos, € 100 of public subsidies went into each night train ticket purchased, which represents 25% of the total losses suffered by the non-high-speed train.
Due to various factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic and demands for more environmentally friendly travel at EU level, French President Emmanuel Macron announced in 2020 the government’s decision to restart train services. by night.
“We’re reopening things tonight that we maybe sacrificed a little too quickly,” Castex said as he got on the train in May.
The French government has allocated 100 million euros to restart the operation of night trains, including 40 million euros for the renovation of the Paris-Nice night train, including Wi-Fi.
To make it more attractive to customers, prices will vary between 19 and 39 € for a reclining seat or a second or first class bunk. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, only four people will be able to sleep in each bunk.
Ten more night trains before 2030
The Paris-Nice night train will not be the only one to restart, as the French government plans to restart several other lines before 2030.
“My ambition [is for] ten night trains in 2030 organized around four major corridors: Bordeaux-Marseille, Dijon-Marseille, Tours-Lyon via Ile-de-France and Paris-Toulouse, ”said Minister of Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.
The revitalization of night train lines will not be limited to France alone but will include other European destinations. By the end of the year, services on the Vienna-Monaco-Paris line should start, while the Paris-Berlin night train will be available from 2023.
France is not the first European country to choose a more environmentally friendly approach to transport. Austria banned short-haul flights in November 2020, replacing them with rail services as part of the AIRail project – a partnership between Austrian Airlines and the Austrian Federal Railways.
“After Linz and Salzburg, we now offer another region, namely Graz, the attractive AIRail offer which guarantees a safe and environmentally friendly journey to the airport, including a secure connection service”, said Andreas Matthä, CEO of the Austrian Federal Railways. Airport technology.
France is also inspired by the way in which the Austrian Federal Railways set up a network of night trains in a “socio-cultural context favorable to the environment and the fight against climate change”.