Antoine Bienvault with AFP / Photo credits: BENOIT DURAND / HANS LUCAS / HANS LUCAS VIA AFP 10:45 a.m., December 11, 2023

The Paris-Aurillac night train line, cancelled 20 years ago, has been back since Sunday evening, with the first train leaving from the Gare d'Austerlitz under the watchful eye of Transport Minister Clément Beaune and SNCF officials.

The inter-city train, partly made up of berths, set off at 19:27 p.m., heading for Aurillac, which it should reach at 07:15 a.m., after stops in Châteauroux, Limoges, Brive, etc. This inauguration comes on the eve of the Paris-Berlin inauguration, which has also been reinstalled in the context of the return to favour of this mode of nocturnal transport, abandoned in the 2010s. It is "a big acceleration", commented Clément Beaune, while France aims for 10 night lines by the end of the decade, according to a plan launched in 2021.

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12-hour journey

For this Paris-Aurillac route, old trains have been renovated to accommodate berths. "We are going to both continue the renovations and order new trains at the end of 2024 or the beginning of 2025," explained the minister, for a total budget of 150 million euros devoted to this project to revive night trains. This also includes equipment such as showers at the end of the platform.

For the Paris-Aurillac line, "as for all lines that do not break even, we assume that they are public service lines, and we subsidize their operation: a line like Paris-Aurillac is between 3 and 4 million euros per year in state subsidies." Even more than the night train, Clément Beaune stresses the importance of the inter-cités, "these train lines that have been neglected, what I sometimes call the slightly Yellow Vest trains, that is to say people who have the feeling that we have only thought of the TGV and not of the inter-city regional trains".

Jean Castex, the former prime minister who had promised the return of this line to Cantal, was there on Sunday evening to see the train leave and see "that it follows!" he told AFP. The night train "I believe in it," he added. "It ticks the box of sustainable transport and the box of rurality, aspects that match my DNA."

Three night trips per week offered

At this stage, three weekly night trips from Paris to Aurillac are offered by the SNCF, in both directions and on weekends. The first sales showed a 65% occupancy rate, according to Clément Beaune.

At the other end of France, in Montpellier, about forty demonstrators, some in dressing gowns, slippers and pyjamas or with a cuddly toy in their hands, gathered in front of the Saint-Roch train station in Montpellier under the banner: "Yes! to the inter-regional night train".

"We would like to see more night trains, from region to region, not always to Paris. It would be interesting to create night connections between Montpellier and Strasbourg or Montpellier and Nantes," said Marie-Noëlle Devisscher, a 71-year-old former ecology researcher with the "Emergency Landing" collective, which advocates a reduction in the use of planes. Montpellier is one of the stations newly served by the night train between Paris and Cerbère, on the Spanish border, the SNCF said in a statement.