France: night trains wake up from their sleep

Two new night trains will leave Paris in 2022. RFI / Stéphane Geneste

Text by: Stéphane Geneste

6 min

As part of the recovery plan presented by the French government, two night train lines will see the light of day again by 2022. Long neglected by the government, almost doomed to disappear, night trains are still popular and arouse even an astonishing craze.


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Gare d'Austerlitz, in Paris.

8 p.m.

The halls of the Parisian station are quiet.

Only a few travelers walk the corridors to reach their taxi.

Suddenly, the little music that precedes an announcement breaks this relative silence.


Ladies and gentlemen, the Intercités de nuit number 5799 in the direction of Briançon will start from track number 4


, we can hear from the loudspeakers.

It did not take less for the people seated on the few benches near the display screens to hurry, in a certain tranquility, towards this train.

Paris-Briançon, 800 kilometers away, in the Hautes-Alpes on the Italian border, it is one of the last two night lines offered by the SNCF.

Before being able to access the famous berths that are the charm of these trains, you have to show your white paw at the end of the platform.

Johanna and Doudou, the two flight attendants, welcome the hundred or so passengers.

The night train is great.

On the Paris-Briançon line, it's family-friendly, very quiet.

Previously, when I was doing Paris-Nice, it was much more festive,

says Johanna, who has been working on these trains for twelve years.

A few minutes later, at 8:40 p.m., it is time to leave Paris.

As the travelers discover their compartments, Johanna opens the door to a small cabin in the back of a car.


The departure of our train is imminent, beware of the automatic closing of the doors,


she finished with a smile.

Whistles follow on the platform, and a thud when the doors close.

The train begins to move.

Next stop, Crest, scheduled for nine hours at 4:42 a.m.

User-friendly and practical

The minutes go by.

The sun is setting in the distance and the ten cars that make up this train pass at moderate speed the stations of the Parisian suburbs.

In car number 11, Bernadette and her two grandchildren, Lola and Alexandre, get into their compartment.

It's not the first time I've slept on a night train and I love it


I even prefer to sleep on the train than in my bed,

enthuses Alexandre, ten years old, who has fun climbing a ladder to reach his bunk and tease his sister.

The noise of the train rocks me.

Sometimes it bothers me, but we get used to it and I can sleep,



Greener, cheaper (around 50 euros per ticket), more practical than the plane or the car, the night train makes its arguments to convince travelers.

When you travel with children, on a journey of several hours, it is complicated to manage.

They need to be busy, to move, to sleep.

Staying seated for hours on end is not livable for them or for us, and even less for others,

notes Bernadette.

Since she is a grandmother and has a trip to do with her grandchildren, the night train is her favorite option.

A little further on, at the head of the train, is a group of young people in their thirties.

They all go to Briançon for a seminar.

But for them, there is no question of going to bed early.

There we have a drink.

The night train is really the best way to go to Briançon.

It's friendly, practical, and above all, you can meet people,

smiles Nancy, glass of rosé in hand.

His companions are also of the same opinion.

The night train is the start of the journey.

It is part of the travel experience.

When you take the plane, you only start the adventure once you arrive at your destination.

There, it has already started, and it makes memories for life,

concludes Romain.

A government ambition

While the train crosses the dark night at full speed, in car 7, at the other end of the convoy, Johanna and Doudou, the crew chiefs, take advantage of the calm of the night to discuss.

We have seen the night lines gradually disappear.

We are attached to it, and each time, it is heartbreaking.

We like to make the night.

It changes everyday life,

says Doudou, a railway worker for 18 years.

Between two sips of tea, she continues.

People are really relaxed.

They are here to find family, to go on vacation.

They are in another perspective than that of connecting a point A to a point B


The same goes for Johanna, who sees a certain poetry in these night trains:

The night train is the means of transport, it is the hotel, it is all at the same time.

We meet people who flit about, who discuss, who discover themselves, who take pictures, who walk around in socks, we don't see that anywhere else,

laughs the flight attendant.

The two controllers are satisfied with the return to favor of the night lines.

In the name of ecological transition and to boost SNCF's activity, the government has announced its intention to relaunch two new night sections.

The Minister Delegate for Transport, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, confirmed that the Paris-Nice and Paris-Hendaye lines (south-east and south-west) will see the light again.

Emmanuel Macron himself mentioned it on July 14 during an interview.

We are going to redevelop the night trains.

Because it saves money and reduces our CO2 emissions,

said the Head of State.

Announcements that delight Johanna and Doudou, as well as the passengers of these trains, who still have beautiful nights ahead of them.

Read also: In Europe, night trains are preparing their comeback


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