The French rail system, the SNCF, is, on the whole, extremely extensive and efficient. You may have heard of the TGV, train Èć grande vitesse, or high speed train that has cut the traveling time in half between Paris and, for example, Marseilles, 900 kilometers away, to four hours and forty minutes instead of eight.
The TGV currently serves the Paris, Lyon, Marseilles line to the south, Geneva and Lausanne in the east in three and a half hours, and the newer ultra high-speed Bordeaux Atlantic line to the southwest (three hours to Bordeaux), and northern line which reaches Lille in one hour and connects with the EuroTunnel to Great Britain (TGV Eurostar Paris-London/Brussels-London service). The Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam TGV line is also opened, also connecting to Cologne.
The TGV requires reservations, which can be made in most travel agencies, all train stations, and at home with the Minitel. Seat reservations for regular trains are also recommended during busy periods. Automatic ticket and reservations machines are located in all train stations and are called biletterie automatique. They take VISA and MasterCard cards as form of payment.
Paris has six main rail stations, all of them on métro lines. All offer a wide range of services: bars and restaurants, refreshment stands, news-stands and information booths (sporadically staffed).
SNCF Train Information (Open daily from 8h-20h)
Information and Reservations: 01.45.82.50.50 Ile de France (regional lines): 01.45.65.60.00 Minitel: 36 15 SNCF
Paris Train Stations and the Directions They Serve (Train Stations Map)
Gare du Nord: Serves the north, including the Channel ports, where trains connect with ferries and hover crafts from Britain; also services Belgium, Holland and the Scandinavian countries. Gare de l´Est: Serves the east, Nancy and Strasbourg, and Germany and eastern Europe, including ex-Yugoslavia and Moscow. (The former Paris-Frankfurt train now continues to Leipzig.) Gare d´Austerlitz: Serves the southwest; Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Spain and Portugal via Orléans, Tours, Poitiers and Angoul┬Éme. Gare St. Lazare: Serves Normandy and boat trains to/from Dieppe. Gare Montparnasse: Serves western France, especially Bretagne. Gare de Lyon: Serves southwestern France, Switzerland, Italy and Greece.
When leaving Paris by train, make sure you know from which station your train leaves. Before boarding your train make sure you punch (composter) your ticket and reservation stub in one of the automatic cancellation machines located at the head of each platform. Failure to do so may result in a stiff fine-train travel within France is essentially based on the honor system. In most cases a conductor will check your tickets anyway. You can purchase tickets onboard, but you pay a supplement. Tickets in Europe are valid for two months from the date stamped on the ticket.
The SNCF also publishes a variety of reduced train fares which they have organized into categories. The fares have names and the cheaper days and times to travel are assigned colors which are at times confusing; inquire thoroughly to make sure you get the best deal available. Discounts depend on destinations, dates, and times. Here are the color coded days, cheapest to most expensive.
Jour bleue: Saturday noon through Sunday 15h. Jour blanc: Friday noon through Saturday noon, and Sunday 15h through Monday noon. Plus holidays. Jour rouge: Principal days of departure.
Under 4 years old is free, but child does not get a seat. Animals pay half fare of a 2nd class ticket or 28 FF if the animal is under 6 kilos and is carried in a bag measuring not more than 45 x 30 x 25cms.
If you want to travel with your car or motorcycle on the train, the SNCF has a complete list of destinations applicable to this service. Motorail is a European network of special trains, generally overnight, carrying passengers with vehicles on journeys up to 900 miles. In Paris, reservations can be made by calling 01.45.65.60.60. Otherwise, inquire at:
Gare Austerlitz (Tolbiac): 01.45.82.73.62. Gare de Lyon (Bercy): 01.40.19.60.11. Gare Montparnasse (Vaugirard): 01.40.48.14.72.
Avis Car Rental offers an instant rental service at 200 French train stations called AVIS TRAIN ? AUTO. This is very convenient but not always the most economical. Tel: 01.46.10.60.60.