TGV Med service to ease French rail travel

NEW YORK -- Stay tuned for yet another French revolution.

Rail watchers have decreed that the soon-to-be-launched TGV Mediterranee line from Valence to Marseilles in France will be as life-changing for European travelers as the Eurostar service was when it crossed the English Channel in 1994.

The TGV Med, to begin this June, is an extension of France's first high-speed service between Paris, Lyon and Valence.

From Valence, the new service heads along the Rhone river valley to Avignon, Aix and Marseille, with a branch extending west to Nimes.

The TGV Med will cut the travel time from Paris to Marseille -- a major hub for business travel and tourism to Provence and the Riviera -- from four hours and 20 minutes to three hours.

And time from Paris to the heart of Provence, Aix, will be reduced from five hours to two hours and 55 minutes.

"The two major tourist areas in France are Paris and the French Riviera," said Rail Europe president Bernard Frelat, who expects a 30% to 40% increase in U.S. train travel to southern France as a result of the new service. "Now it will make Paris and the south much closer to each other by train, so people interested in a side trip to the Riviera can actually get there and back in a day."

Americans often are time-limited when they come to France, Frelat said, and the TGV Med might convince them to visit Provence or Riviera towns they might have previously considered too far away from Paris.

The TGV Med will provide several high-speed links from Provence, which will connect Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and Lille, Brussels (via the Thalys service to Paris) and London (via the Eurostar service to Paris).

Each day there will be 140 scheduled departures from TGV-connected cities. Both Eurostar and Thalys plan to run through-trains to the south of France on the TGV route.

Three new TGV stations -- in Valence, Avignon and Aix -- are being built to open in June with car rental counters and taxi and bus service. Six stations along the line are being renovated.

Other high-speed developments by country follow:

  • Germany. In November, the latest generation of ICE trains started running between Frankfurt and Amsterdam, reducing travel time from five hours to 3.5 hours. By 2002, time between Cologne and Frankfurt will be reduced from two hours to one. The Frankfurt-Paris train should be running by 2004, cutting travel time from six to four hours.
  • The Netherlands. By 2002, the first stage of a track from Amsterdam to Brussels will be completed, making the Thalys trip between Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam three hours and 48 minutes, a savings of one hour and 35 minutes.
  • Spain. By 2005, the Madrid-Barcelona line will be complete, reducing travel time from six-and-a-half hours to two hours, 30 minutes.
  • Switzerland. This June, tilting trains will begin service on the Jura Foot line (Saint Gall, Zurich, Biel, Lausanne, Geneva), cutting travel time by 15 minutes.
  • Great Britain. By 2003, the first stage of the track from Folkstone to London will be complete, taking 20 minutes off the three-hour trip to Paris and the two-hour-and-40-minute trip to Brussels.
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