Two weeks from now, at 09.38 on 6 July, a double-deck high-speed will escape from the joyless gloom of Montparnasse station in Paris to make the maiden voyage of the Ouigo brand to Toulouse.
Five hours later, masses of passengers will arrive within the lots extra agreeable surroundings of Matabiau station, the city’s handsome rail hub. They might be satisfied on two counts: they’re within the sunny southwest of France, and they’ll have paid significantly much less than the usual fare on French Railways (SNCF) for a journey of around 450 miles.
Looking weeks beforehand, the fare with Ouigo, the low-price subsidiary of SNCF, is € sixty-five (£ fifty-eight) – slightly 1/2 the usual fee between the towns.
You may think that something that reduces the value of rail journey would be welcomed using the main proponent of traveling by using teach in Europe: Mark Smith, founder of the Seat61.Com global rail internet site. He campaigns energetically to steer guests to transport from air and street to rail. But he is unimpressed with Ouigo.
“People like train tours due to the fact it is such a lot less disturbing than journeys by way of the budget airline,” he says. “So making use of all the matters people hate approximately finances airlines to a training carrier, unnecessarily, can’t be accurate.”
As without a-frills airways, cheap rail journey in France involves a sequence of hurdles, beginning with reserving online. You are supposed to show up a minimum of half of-an-hour before departure, as with Eurostar; however, there may be no protection greater passport check to go through. Its actual motive, suspects Smith, is: “Discouraging SNCF’s current customers from buying and selling down to Ouigo.”
Anyone hoping to tour Ouigo with an Interrail bypass may have as a good deal success as they would have been they to bowl up at a Ryanair desk with the equal document. And there are no ensures on connections to other trains (or planes).
Strict baggage assessments are imposed, with a length limit less than British Airways’ cabin baggage allowance. Extra cases value €five booked earlier, or €20 at the station.
A rate of €2 applies for passengers who want to plug a pc or smartphone into the onboard mains. Ouigo says: “C’est le Prix dun café!”
Talking of espresso: you gained’t be buying any onboard. One huge distinction from budget airlines is the absence of any ambitiously priced meals or drink, even on the five-hour journey between Paris and Toulouse. (No scratchcards, both.)
Smith warns mainly of the middle seat of the three-abreast row downstairs. “These seats haven’t any center armrests so that they can get pretty snug.”
But he is looking at Ouigo from a professional, pan-European attitude. For an exclusive view, I sought a few comments from visitors who use the reasonably-priced trains and work in a global organization.
One British vacationer describes Ouigo as: “Very an awful lot harking back to the ugly factors of the Ryanair experience. Queueing in a station, scrum to get scanned and thru gates, no coffee bar on the train.”
Another Brit reinforces the budget airline resonance: “Once I felt sorry for an own family who wasn’t allowed to board a train due to the fact they’d arrived after the cut-off time, even though they educate changed into still on the platform.”
“Limited baggage, unique instances, however attractive costs,” says one French respondent. Another adds: “I don’t think that there has been a large drop in a fine of provider, consolation, or punctuality.”
You can count on greater such trains throughout Europe, as “open-get right of entry to” operators start competing with incumbents. So Ouigo’s moves are probably considered gaining experience beforehand of opposition or unkindly because the rail equals a land grasp to keep rivals at bay.
Meanwhile, Smith says: “It’ll happen subsequent in Spain, with Renfe’s low-price subsidiary, Eva. “I wish those could be additional trains, now not, as with the ultra-modern tranche of Ouigo offerings, created through downgrading existing ‘right’ trains.” You ought to call it a 1/3-magnificence tour. But a French tourist sums up the destiny of excessive-pace, low-fee rail most succinctly: “The charge distinction is bigger than the consolation gap.”