FRENCH National Railways (SNCF) reintroduced a daily Paris Austerlitz - Nice overnight train service on May 20. The service was restored at the request of the French government, which is financing the refurbishment of the rolling stock as part of its France Relance Covid-19 relaunch plan announced in September 2020.

The timings for the new service are: Paris Austerlitz depart 20.52 arriving at Nice Ville 09.11 and returning from Nice Ville at 19.16 to arrive at Paris Austerlitz at 06.55 the following morning. The new service also serves Marseille, Toulon, Les Arcs, Saint Raphaël, Cannes and Antibes.

Initially the train is limited to seven vehicles and is coupled to the Paris - Briançon overnight service for part of the journey. The train is formed of first and second-class couchette coaches plus second-class coaches with reclining seats. The cheapest launch fare was €19 one way.  Depending on demand, the service is expected to be lengthened and operated independently of the Briançon section.

Most of France’s overnight passenger trains were withdrawn in the period to 2017 following a report to the government which highlighted heavy losses averaging €100 per passenger - and recommended withdrawing all trains where an alternative by daytime TGV high speed train is available. The case of the Paris - Nice service was strongly contested as the TGV journey still takes up to six hours for the 975km trip and traffic was still strong.

The new Nice service complements the two services which were retained in 2017: Paris - Briançon and Paris - Rodez, La Tour-de-Carol and Cerbère. The government and SNCF intend to reintroduce overnight services from Paris to Tarbes and Vienna at the end of 2021.

It remains to be seen whether or when the French government intends to tender operation of these trains, which are likely to be subsidised, as is compulsory under EU rules.

A detailed look at the resurgence of night trains across Europe appeared in the May issue of IRJ and is available here.