France Pioneers Low-Cost High-Speed Rail

Taking a page out of the book of budget airlines such as Ryanair, France's SNCF is introducing OuiGo - a hyper low-cost high-speed rail option that aims to convert suburban drivers into train riders.
asseremou / Wikimedia Commons

Although throughout most of the world higher-speed rail service comes at a higher cost to customers, France has long pioneered making fast trains accessible to people across the income spectrum. With the introduction of its new OuiGo service this week, SNCF (the national rail service) is pushing that philosophy further, reports Yonah Freemark.

"OuiGo brings the aviation low-cost concept to high-speed railways," he explains. "In exchange for a cheap ticket, customers will be charged for a second carry-on bag; they’ll pay more for the use of an electrical outlet; they’ll be unable to change their tickets without a fee....Double-decker trains will seat 1,268 passengers, not because seats have been compressed (unlike the airlines, thank god), but rather because the first class and dining car spaces have been replaced by economy-class areas."

One choice that helps to lower costs, and hopes to attract suburban travelers, is the locating of stops outside of the "more convenient" center city passenger terminals, which charge SNCF more for the use of their tracks and stations.  

"It’s an innovative approach to providing train service at lower costs, one that sacrifices convenience to the city center for easy access for suburban automobile users, who, despite France’s rather well-developed transit networks, nonetheless constitute a large portion of the population," notes Freemark. "For them, an easy-to-access train station in the suburbs — combined with cheaper-than-normal tickets — may be enough to induce them to switch to the train."

"It will be interesting to see whether this fare and service model is appreciated by customers, or whether they will instead continue to either shell out a little more for seats on standard TGVs or drive long distances in their private cars," he concludes.

Full Story: In France, a Truly Low-Cost High-Speed Rail Option

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