Le TGV - Le Train Grande Vitesse
Unlike in the U.S., rail travel in France is still an important means of transportation. This is due in no small measure to the fact that the one and only railroad, the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer français) is owned by the national government, and the prices are artificially low. French tax dollars at work.
I won’t go into the SNCF jokes the French tell, nor the difficulties posed by the still largely communist union of railroad workers.
Be all that as it may, in my experience, the SNCF does an amazingly good job. The trains are surprisingly clean - especially considering the number of passengers the trains carry. The trains, including the RER in Paris, have far less trash left on them than the BART trains in the San Francisco Bay Area - and BART carries substantially less traffic.
Most of the time, the trains are on time, and the system of connecting with other means of public transportation is very well thought out and generally seamless.
The low prices for SNCF tickets has made it difficult for airline connections between the major cities to be a paying proposition for the airlines. The inter-city trains have roomy, comfortable seats and adequate legroom. So, why board a flying cattle car when for less money and for only slightly more travel time, you can travel in comfort?
The pride of the SNCF, and justly so, is le TGV, Train Grande Vitesse - the high speed trains. Outside of the cities, the TGV moves at 300 kph - 180 miles-per-hour. They are electric, thus clean in operation, all the more so because most of France’s electricity is generated in nuclear plants. Even though French politics are more to the left than U.S. politics, the government has succeeded in being able to build many nuclear power plants.
The seats, even in 2e Classe, on the TGV are more comfortable than most seats on airlines.
I once took the Eurostar TGV from Waterloo Station in London, under La Manche (the English Channel) into Gare du Nord in Paris. It was a fine experience.
The pictures of the TGV above were taken at the TGV station at Charles de Gaulle airport. The SNCF takes its competition with the airlines right to the airport. The pictured train is bound for Lille in the north of France.