Ski resorts by train

Save the sleeper trains!

Sat 09 July, 2016


Daniel Elkan

Imagine.  You go to sleep on a train in Paris, and wake up the next morning, minutes from the slopes.  It’s something that skiers have been doing for many, many years – a brilliant way to reach the Alps and a way to get two extra days’ skiing on your holiday.  But now these overnight travel options are under threat – not just to ski resorts but to destinations all over France. 

Although the sleeper trains are popular, The French Ministry of Transport, which owns national operator SNCF, has decided that the trains are not economical to run, and is going to scrap all but three of the routes.  At a stroke, overnight journeys from Paris to more than 20 popular ski resorts would no longer be possible.

While overnight services have been running for over 100 years, it appears that SNCF  wants to invest in daytime train services, but this is coming at the expense of night trains.

Skiers and other travellers are shocked to hear this news, and understandably so. Daytime train travel is all very well, but the overnight train travel has particular advantages.  Daytime train travel  - fantastic as it is – is a different animal.

If the plans to cancel services go ahead, this will mean fewer sleeper services from Paris to more than 20 resorts in the French Alps.  These resorts are:

Avoriaz, Brides les Bains, Courchevel, Flaine, La Clusaz, La Plagne, La Rosiere, La Tania, Le Grand Bornand, Les Arcs, Les Carroz, Les Contamines, Les Gets, Les Menuires, Manigold, Megeve, Meribel, Morillon, Morzine, Peisey-Vallandry, Sainte Foy, Samoens, St Gervais, St Martin de Belleville, Tignes, Val d'Isere, Val Thorens and Valmorel.

Each sleeper train can carry around 780 holidaymakers.  Can you imagine how many ski days will be lost?  And all these skiers will either cram onto daytime trains (nice, but different), or drive (long and boring), or fly (long and boring) – in order to get to the slopes.  The extra traffic and pollution created will be significant, too.   

There’s a romance and excitement to rail travel that other forms of transport can’t get near – and even daytime rail travel can’t quite replicate. This is hugely important, but it seems that the French Government and SNCF have failed to see this bigger picture.    Have you ever travelled on the Orient Express? Like me, you probably haven’t.  Does the existence of the Orient Express – the idea of it – make you feel warmer about rail travel generally? It probably does.  Now imagine the Orient Express was losing money.  It still wouldn’t make sense to scrap it, because it has such an important, positive effect on rail travel generally.  This is called the bigger picture.  And SNCF would be wise to see it.  

To help persuade the French Government  and SNCF to save these trains instead of cancelling them, I’ve created a film and a petition.  The film shows the journey made by two teddy bears (yes you did read that right!)  - who originate from a charity shop in West Hampstead – to the Alps by overnight train. 

The petition sets out some key points that would help SNCF run the train more successfully, too.  The comments by signers of the petition are wonderful to read. Here's the petition: