Demystifying the French Train Systems!

screamHave you, like the Solo Lady Traveller once upon a time, tried to book a train trip in France and been defeated by the acronyms? TER. SNCF. TGV. OIUGO. iDTGV. RER. "What does it all MEAN?" I hear you cry. And how do I book travel from France to another country? And why do the prices vary so much? Why is no service shown for my desired date of travel? Below is a simple (well, fairly simple) explanation (hopefully) demystifying the French train systems, and some information to help you make your bookings. I have added some helpful links. Remember, the French train system is fast, reliable, clean, economical, and a terrific service - once you have worked it out. Acronyms - What Do They Mean? SNCF - Almost all train travel in France is managed by SNCF, the French national state-owned rail company. SNCF does not however operate all services. TGV - Train de Grand Vitesse, or Very High Speed Train. Operated by SNCF. TER - Transport Express Regional. A subsidiary of SNCF, managed often by regional administrations, which operates normal (non-high speed) regional trains. Intercités - a subsidiary of SNCF operating the non-high-speed services on major national rail lines. iDTGV - a low-cost subsidiary of SNCF but with a separate booking system and conditions. OUIGO - a subsidiary of SNCF but run separately, which operates low-cost services from Paris to the south-east of France. RER - this is a network of 5 express lines in Paris and surrounding suburbs. It is much faster than the Metro. Metro - the Paris underground rail network. Now. How to choose your train, make a reservation, and get your ticket? Useful Things to Know 1. If you are going to spend a lot of time in France, or travel there regularly, I recommend that you get a SNCF loyalty card, the Voyageur. It is free, and the main benefit is that once you book your travel, you do not need to get a ticket or punch a ticket; the purchase or reservation automatically shows on your loyalty card. You just present your card and the ticket inspector can read it. Get this at The form is in French, but is not too hard to follow. The loyalty program also gives you a reduction of up to 20% on a ticket after a certain number of trips. The Voyageur loyalty card is valid on TGV, TER, and Intercités but not on RER, iDTGV or OUIGO. 2. Reductions in fare are offered for seniors (over 60). 3. If you book online and want to get the ticket from a machine at a station, you  must have the credit card which you used to book it. 3.  For TGV, TER, Intercités and OUIGO tickets you must composte (validate) the ticket in a little yellow machine in the station, before boarding the train. Watch others and you will see where to do it. Booking on TGV. Reservations are compulsory. Tickets become available 3 months in advance, and often sell out quite quickly. TGV tickets can be booked online at (in English) or at (in French). You can also book by phone (not recommended if your French is not marvellous), and at SNCF stations and sales offices. NOTE: you can not buy them at regional (TER) stations. You can have the ticket posted to you, or collect it at an SNCF station, or you can download it to your mobile phone or iPad. The price for travel on a particular route can vary by as mutgv-map-francech as 100% depending on the day of the week and the time of day, so check out the earlier trains and be flexible if you can. Bikes must be booked at the same time as your ticket for a charge of €10. You can book with SNCF directly and travel on one ticket for travel into Spain, Switzerland, England, Belgium, Spain, Netherlands and Germany. WARNING: if you try to book online from England, you may be diverted to Rail Europe or other sites. The price can be very much higher. and not all trips and routes  are shown. Make sure that you are on the SNCF site. You can get the Voyages-SNCF app for your phone or iPad, which makes it easy to make pay for, and manage bookings and you will not be diverted to RailEurope. I use this a lot. Booking on TER Reservations are not compulsory. Prices are fixed for each route, unlike the TGV. Tickets become available 4 months in advance. You can book online (in English) at You can have the ticket posted to you, or collect it at an SNCF station, or you can download it to your mobile phone or iPad. Bikes travel free! You can get the SNCF TER app for your phone or iPad, which I have not used but which I assume is as useful as the one for the TGV. Booking on Intercités Bookings can be made (in English) at  SNCF site under  "€ Deals" site as for TER. Tickets become available 3 months in advance.  Booking on iDTGV idtgv-routes-franceBookings on iDTGV can ONLY be made online. Go to for English language. iDTGV operates to about 50 stations throughout France, a complete listing is given under the tab iDestinations. NOTE: you must print your ticket, they do not currently accept an e-ticket. You scan the ticket at entry to the train, not the station. There are two different styles of travel on iDTGV, the iDZEN for quiet travel, and the iDZAP if you want to chat, play computer games, and so on. Make sure to specify this when booking. You can take 2 suitcases without extra charge. Important Note: Prices start out at €19 when they are first offered, and increase as the departure time gets closer. So no last-minute deals here, book early. Booking on OUIGO ouigo-routes-franceOUIGO is a very low cost line, modelled after the low cost air carriers. It only operates from Paris to the south of France, and usually from lesser stations, as shown on the right. For example, from Paris it departs from Marne-La-Vallee, near Disneyland, not from Gare de Lyon. Tickets become available up to 9 months in advance and can only be bought online at or through the mobile app. Tickets must be bought at least 4 hours in advance. You can either print the email ticket at home, or use the e-ticket on the mobile app. There is no buffet car, and one piece of hand luggage is free of charge; suitcases cost €5 if booked with the travel, up to €40 if paid at the station! Travel on RER and Metro ile-de-france_rer_mapThe RER is the high-speed train service in Paris and surrounding suburbs. There are 5 lines, A, B, C, D and E. In general you will catch the Metro inside Paris, but as they have very closely-spaced stations it is much quicker to take the RER for longer trips. RER trains run to a schedule, Metro do not, they just run every few minutes. RER lines are accessed from Metro stations, and are indicated by a blue RER inside a blue circle. There is an excellent free app called Paris Metro RATP Map and Route Planner, which shows both the RER lines (noted by letters) and the Metro lines (numbered). Do not bother with the apps you have to buy. You can enter in where you want to go to and from, and it will tell you the best route. Tickets for the Metro and RER are bought at the same auto ticket dispenser, and you can travel on the RER on a Metro ticket inside Paris. For travel further afield, such as to Versailles, Charles de Gaulle airport, or Disneyland, you must buy an RER ticket. IMPORTANT: Do not forget to take your ticket from the entry gate once it has opened for you. You will need it to exit at the other end. There are multiple day and multiple area passes which are economical if you are spending some time in Paris, for details enquire at a Metro station. ********************************* There. It is not simple, exactly, but the services are excellent and once you have the hang of it, you will probably wonder why the service at home is so inferior!
Like this?
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on LinkedInShare on Google+