French Trains Don’t Bat 1.000.
I’ve gotten a pretty good look at the vaunted French rail system over the past week, taking a total of five trains getting from Paris to Chalon-sur-Saône and, yesterday, from Chalon-sur-Saône to Saumur.
Three of the trains were regionals, one was what I would call a local, and one was a TGV, which I guess we all know is France’s high-speed train. I have a remarkable little app on my smart phone which somehow knows how fast I’m traveling. It told me that the high-speed train peaked at 185 miles per hour, the regionals’ top speed was around 90 to 95, and the one local train that took me from Tours to Saumur ran pretty consistently at about 65.
That was the plus side of the ledger; there were several items on the other side.
First, the only train with reasonably clean windows was the short-haul that brought me here to Saumur, a 30-minute ride. The windows on all the other trains, even the TGV, had been washed, but with muddy water. There was a brown tint to all of them, with some showing a lot of very pronounced streaks. Dirty windows! This is my hot button, especially when Amtrak puts so much time and effort and money into promoting its scenic routes.
Second, you know how everyone talks about how the French trains always run spot on time? Well, not yesterday. The high-speed train was 40 minutes late and that caused me to miss a connection in Tours. That, in turn, meant I arrived in Saumur almost 90 minutes after the Europcar office at the station had closed, meaning I had to take a taxi to my little B&B and go back to pick up my rental car this morning.
And, third, many of the rail cars in which I traveled were not well-maintained and/or had seen better days: dirty lavatories and threadbare upholstery on the seats being the most noticeable issues.
I also found a great disparity in the attitudes of the SNCF* employees, both at the stations and aboard the trains. Some were very helpful; others bored, curt and disinterested.
All that said, the bottom line is the French have a fabulous passenger rail system. You can get from almost anywhere to almost anywhere else with very little problems and at a reasonable cost.
I happened to spot a sign posted in the railway station at St. Pierre des Corps. It listed all the trains serving that city around the clock in the course of one day. Some of the trains didn’t operate on weekends and on holidays, but most ran every day. There were 96 trains on the list.
* Société Nationale Chemin de Fer