France has one of the fastest trains in the world and their rail system, the SNCF is fantastic, offering long long journeys at low low prices, at least compared to the UK. In England, a train ticket from Liverpool to London can cost anything from £40 to upwards of £120 depending on the time of day and when in the week you want to travel. On a bad day in France, a train ticket from Metz to Paris, which is almost exactly the same distance as Liverpool to London, will only cost me about 40€ and it will get me there in only an hour and a half instead of the two hours between Liverpool and London. Now some of you might be confused, the blog title mocks the French train but here I am singing its praises… hmmm.
Well the truth is I couldn’t love the TGV and the regional trains more. They’re fast and cheap and make it possible for me to have some semblance of a social life. In just over an hour by train, I can be in any one of four countries: France (obv), Luxembourg, Belgium or Germany. It’s fantastic and very exciting when you think of it like that.
What I detest, nay – hate with a passion only reserved for those who murder, rape and talk in the cinema, is the total unreliability of this ostensibly great transport system.
For one thing, these trains cannot be described as regular by any stretch of the imagination. I’ll give you an example: today is a weekday and if I wished to go into Metz to have a caffeine fuelled day of frolicking fun, I could get the trains at 5:54, 6:54, 8:09 or 9:17. This is obviously ridiculous as I’m still asleep at those ungodly hours of the morning and so a midday train suits me fine. There are trains at 11:57 (but only up until the 19th of Feb and then from the 8th of March to the 2nd of April and then from the 19th of April until the 1st of July), at 11:56 (but only on the 2nd of July), and at 12:52. Then there are NO trains until 17:02. I kid you not. It’s that complicated and that stupid. Who takes a frakin’ five hour break in the middle of the day?
That’s not even including the weekends. Saturdays are quite crazy but on Sundays you’d think that the great zombiepocalypse had occurred and that everybody in France was dead for all the shops which are open and as for the trains, well I won’t even go there. It’s just pitiful.
I mean, I could handle if trains were regular. Even if regular meant every two hours. But to have so many amendments and addendums written into the train timetable (there are over 25 exceptions for when trains do and don’t run and they vary according to which direction you’re travelling) is just a joke.
Even more of a joke is the way that the SNCF workers randomly just go on strike all the time. It gets them precisely nowhere as far as I can see, but screws up the rest of the country’s travel for at least 24 hours. Often longer when their obscenely long lunch break is involved.
To combat this, you’d think I would look into travelling by bus wouldn’t you? Well that’s an even stupider idea. If you thought the SNCF guys were temperamental, the bus drivers make them look as dependable as gravity. Busses are infrequent and when they do run, they tend to turn up quite a few minutes earlier than scheduled, take a cursory glance at the bus stop and when they see that there’s nobody there, they drive on. Well of course there’s nobody there – the bus isn’t due for another seven minutes! Oh and on Sundays, most busses take the idea of a Sabbath quite seriously.
It puzzles me that a country which prides itself on it secularism and the separation of church and state is still so dead on a Sunday. What is everybody doing? It’s not as if the majority of the population is anywhere near a church or anything.
The mind boggles at the extent of the gross incompetence and the lazy nonchalance of the French transport system. If this were Britain, I’d write a very stern and strongly worded letter to them expressing my views. That’d show the blighters.
Translation: I was late because of the SNCF strikes… I’ve lost my job because of the SNCF strikes… the only thing left for me is to die, but I can’t because of the SNCF strikes!
Maybe this is the solution to my travelling woes?