Switzerland-France : plane or train?

The Swiss and French railway authorities have announced a joint 12-year plan to improve high speed rail links between Switzerland and Paris. A rail-air fight for passengers in prospective?

A report broadcast on the Swiss TV news discussed the joint 12-year plan adopted by the Swiss and French railway authorities to offer improved high-speed train (TGV) connections to and from Paris. The plan involves replacing rather old trains by more modern two-deck ones, adapted to be able to circulate on Swiss railway line standards. Together with improvements to the tracks, such as the recent new and more direct line from Geneva to join with the main Paris-Marseille line, the objective is to increase the percentage of rail traffic over air traffic.

It seems to be an objective to get the journey time down to below three hours, which might be an important factor in the decision of many passengers. There are, of course, other factors involved, but the idea of getting onto the train at Geneva or Basel station, relaxing (maybe eating a nice meal) before getting off in the centre of Paris less than three hours later is tempting: no airport security check problems, no need to be at the station well in advance of the departure time, no likelihood of being refused because of overbooking, etc. In fact, even when the journey was nearer four hours, my wife and I sometimes treated ourselves to a long weekend in Paris: theatre, the Louvre, stroll around Montmartre and eat in nice restaurants. The train journey was a pleasant part of the experience, whereas a plane journey tended to be just a way of getting from A to B!

I did actually notice that there was a TGV from Zurich when, just before Christmas, I did a day trip around Switzerland (thanks to the daily tickets offered at reasonable prices by the Swiss railways via the communal authorities). After going to Basel via Chaux-de-Fonds and the little red train, I hopped on the TGV from Basel to Zurich.

Double-decker transport! This was always possible in my youth on the red double-decker buses in England, and which we still occasionally see here in Geneva. There is a child-like enjoyment in climbing up the stairs to get a better view of the world as it passes by the window. Our son was once very indignant that, in Cape Town to visit grandparents at Christmas, he was not allowed to go up there because it was reserved for non-whites! A real introduction to apartheid as it was then.

Double-decker aircraft have also been known for quite a long time. One interesting one was the Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat, already in service before the second world war. It would be a lovely sight if one ever came in and landed on lake Geneva (there have been landings on the lake, but not very often), but this is unlikely!

Two-deck jet aircraft came  in with the Boeing 747 aircraft. On boarding one I was always wanting to climb the stairs, but the upper deck was for first-class passengers. We were always in economy class, except for once on our way from Paris to Johannesburg when, because of strikes, the reservation system was in a mess and we were asked if we would mind being upgraded. While I stood there speechless (but mouth wide open) my wife reacted immediately and said that we would not mind in the slightest. Dinner of roast lamb, sliced off the bone and put onto wedgewood china plates, plus complementary champagne and fine wines, made me realise what I had missed, but a check of my bank account forced me to realise that I would have to continue missing it! I consoled myself with the thought that at 35000 feet an extra few feet to the upper deck would not significantly change the view.

Double-decker trains are something that we are now getting used to seeing when we cross the invisible wall of rösti between Geneva and Berne or Zurich. I have to admit that I still go upstairs if possible. I am told that before too long the service between Versoix and the centre of Geneva will also be accomodated with double-decker rolling stock, so you can guess on which deck of them I will be when they are here.

Finally, don't forget that those beautiful old CGN lake steamers that grace our lake every summer are also double-deckers. OK, upstairs is first class and costs a bit extra, but I can afford it.

See you up there this summer!

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There a few errors. Double-deck services are available on the IC between Geneva and Lausanne. IR stopping at Nyon and Morges are single-deck, so are the regional traffic. The RE (formely "direct trains", stopping at Coppet, Nyon, Gland, Rolle, Allaman, Morges and Renens) are currently single-deck.

Only these (slow if you want to go to Lausanne) RE will be changed to double-deck trains, in 2012. This will increase their capacity and, as they are quicker to brake and accelerate it will shorten the time between Genève and Lausanne a bit, allowing to insert two RE per hour (rather than one now). The new capacity will be used in december 2013 with the new time schedule (project "Suisse Occidentale 2014").

It is possible that the IR will use double-deck trains, but the CFF do not want to adapt the line between Aigle and Saint-Maurice for this kind of trains. The authorities of Valais are currently looking to prefinance the study of this adaptation.

(This is a rule in mobility network: accelerate the slowest train/bus/tram to increase the capacity of a line)

But I do agree, to go to Paris, the TGV is much much quicker than the plane, door to door, of course.

Posted by: Klump | 02/18/2011

The nice thing about being corrected is to know that at least one person reads my ramblings :-)
It is true that the double-decker trains can be taken to Lausanne, but I meant to imply that they do not then go down to the Valais region, for which Klump gives the reason.
I was told (by a controller on the local train) that there will be two-deck trains to relieve the congestion on my way to Geneva (Pont-Céard/Versoix to Cornavin): the same type as can currently be seen speaking Swiss-German ! There will also be an increase in peak capacity of the Lancy Pont Rouge to Coppet service, to one train every 15 minutes, once there are the new cross-over junctions at Chambésy and Mies: these are 15 minutes apart (mathematically the necessity for such a service).

Posted by: Mike Gerard | 02/18/2011

Hi again!

It is indeed correct that with the RER (CEVA + the two crossings at Mies and Chambesy), there will be one train between Versoix and Cornavin every 15 minutes. (Even if the CEVA is late, it will be possible to have one train every 15 minutes from december 2015, if there is not too much opposition from inhabitants of Mies and Chambesy).

Double-decker trains may be used on this RER, but, at least at the beginning, there won't be any (except on the line 1 which will be the current RE and won't stop in Versoix), the doubling of the frequency should be enough to increase the capacity. (And the length of the Stadler trains used now can be doubled if needed).

The projected lines: http://etat.geneve.ch/dt/SilverpeasWebFileServer/RER-FVG_plan-reseau_projet-08janv09.jpg?ComponentId=kmelia754&SourceFile=1256678257918.jpg&MimeType=image/pjpeg&Directory=Attachment/Images/

Posted by: Klump | 02/18/2011

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