Place Stanislas in the middle of Nancy. The town will benefit from much better regional rail connections with the revamp of timetables in April 2016 (photo © Worldfoto / dreamstime).
Our thanks to Chris Woodcock of the European Rail Timetable for his comments and advice as we prepared this article.
Significant train timetable changes in eastern France and parts of Luxembourg come into effect on Sunday 3 April 2016. The new schedules are the result of a project called Cadencement du réseau TER-Métrolor which has been in preparation for a couple of years.
The aim is to simplify timetables on principal regional rail routes serving the Lorraine region. The pattern of rail services in the region has barely changed over three decades. Now we’ll see new rolling stock with regular interval services on many routes and a considerable increase in capacity on some axes.
The new pattern of services which launches next month is designed to accommodate current and likely future commuter flows and changing patterns of leisure traffic. One key factor in the region has been the Schengen Agreement, which has over the years done much to facilitate cross-border commuting, particularly across the border between France and Luxembourg. Longer trains and more frequent services will make very many more seats available on principal routes. On some routes, further service enhancements will take place in late summer and / or autumn 2016 – the fact that not all the improvements are being introduced in April is because some scheduled enhancements are contingent on the delivery of new trains.
The April 2016 edition of the European Rail Timetable will include the new schedules (look for Tables 382 ff).
1. Improved local services will be introduced between Saarbrücken and Metz, with convenient onward connections from Metz to Nancy and Luxembourg. The fastest direct trains from Saarbrücken will now reach Metz Ville in under an hour. For some stations on this route (such as Hombourg-Haut) the number of trains per day will more than double.
2. The most dramatic improvement is on the line from Luxembourg to Metz, where overcrowding has been a perennial issue. The new schedules have a new clock face off-peak timetable with one fast train per hour and one stopping service each hour on this important cross-border route. Many extra trains will run at peak times. The new timetable will see overall a 50% increase in available seat capacity on this line. New services will accommodate the growing cross-border commuter traffic from Thionville and Uckange to Luxembourg.
3. There will be big improvements on regional routes around Nancy, with more frequent services on the route to Remiremont via Épinal and on the line from Nancy via Lunéville to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. There will be doubling of frequency on the line from Nancy to Bar-le-Duc. Travellers on these routes heading towards Nancy will find much better onward connections at Nancy Ville for Metz.
4. The new Lorraine timetables are designed first and foremost to benefit travellers making local or regional journeys in the Lorraine region and adjacent areas. But passengers making longer journeys will benefit from much better connectivity at major hubs such as Metz Ville and Nancy Ville. And, for those who have an aversion to high-speed trains, the new schedules offer more journey opportunities from Paris via the classic Marne Valley line to Nancy, Metz, Luxembourg and Saarbrücken.
5. Quite apart from the great improvements arising from the Métrolor cadencement project, 3 April will also see some alterations to longer-distance services in the region. We mentioned in an earlier issue of European Rail News that the EC services from Brussels via Luxembourg to Strasbourg and beyond are being withdrawn. These services were so unloved that few will mourn their demise. Passengers will now be able to travel in TGV comfort from Luxembourg, Thionville and Metz to Strasbourg. For the first time ever, there will be a direct high-speed link from Strasbourg to Brussels. it will run via the LGV Est route and Lille.
6. Luxembourg will have a new direct daytime connection to the south of France from 3 April, with the launch of a new TGV service to Montpellier. With a convenient late-morning departure from Luxembourg at 10.44, this new service is aimed principally at the leisure market. The journey to Montpellier St Roch will take just over eight hours. Adjustments to various schedules will create new direct TGV links from Metz to Besançon, from Thionville to Lyon and from Lorraine TGV (on the LGV Est line) to Brussels. From 3 April, there will also be a direct TGV from Nancy to Toulouse. This very useful new cross-country service will operate weekends only in April, but will then increase to daily from the start of May.
Those who were hoping that the Métrolor cadencement project would miraculously breathe new life into lesser rail routes will be disappointed. The Nancy to Culmont line will continue, as now, to be served by just one local train each week (in addition to the TGV trains which ply the route). That’s a deliciously eccentric piece of timetabling. At least the weekly slow train is now really scheduled to be a train. This time last year, buses were rostered in place of trains for this service.
Even the new schedules, with their emphasis on simplicity and regularity, still allow for some appealing oddities. Best of the bunch in our view is a new twice-daily direct TER service (on weekdays) from Lunéville to Reims via Nancy, Châlons-en-Champagne and Épernay. That’s a route which will surely appeal to dedicated slow travellers.
A secondary aspect of the Métrolor project was a long hard look at the regional rail links between Lorraine and neighbouring Alsace. Passenger loadings on some of the direct TER services between Metz and Strasbourg have slumped in recent years. So frequency on that route is being trimmed from 3 April. There are currently ten trains per day from Metz to Strasbourg on weekdays. That’s down to just six in the new schedules – albeit with some very much faster journey times. In addition to the six direct trains, there are from 3 April two other daily options from Metz to Strasbourg, each requiring an easy change of train in Sarrebourg with a guaranteed connection. Despite the modest reduction in the number of trains linking the two cities, seat capacity between Metz and Strasbourg actually increases slightly from 3 April.
From mid-summer, two trains per day will dash non-stop from Metz to Strasbourg in just 50 minutes. Until then, they are timed to take 78 minutes. SNCF is introducing more flexible pricing on this route for the first time. Until now, there has simply been a one-way fare of €27.10. From 3 April, there will be a new semi-flexible fare of €17.50 on the fastest trains between the two cities. That’s a big reduction, but it’s still a lot more than the Ouibus coach service from Metz to Strasbourg which offers a one-way fare of just €9. Cheaper fares, along with faster and more comfortable trains, will we hope help restore rail travel as the preferred option for travellers between Metz and Strasbourg. This is a route to watch. The pattern of services between Nancy and Strasbourg remains unchanged.