FRENCH National Railways has changed its portfolio of discounted fares. This follows an initial step last June, when SNCF simplified its basic fares structure and launched two railcards designed to attract young people to travel by train. The latest changes are being made after a market research campaign in November and December last year when volunteers from SNCF’s staff asked nearly 185000 passengers for their views on SNCF’s standards and services.

From April 25 families, senior citizens and people travelling on short breaks that include a Saturday night away will be elegible for reduced fares. Découverte fares with a 25% reduction valid on most trains will be offered for occasional travellers in the three categories. For those making more frequent trips, a railcard valid for one year can be purchased, entitling the holder to half-price travel on most trains.

At the end of the year the simpler fares structure applied to Paris - Lille TGV services since September last year is likely to be extended to all TGVs. Instead of four fare levels based on time and date of travel, fares will be simplified to one level of first class fare and an off-peak and peak fare in second class.

Last year’s launch of trains verts on which compulsory reservations were no longer required on selected TGVs, plus a fares reduction of 15%, was taken up by less than 6% of passengers. As more passengers will now be able to take advantage of 25% reductions, SNCF has decided to abandon the train vert concept from the timetable change on May 23.

From April 26 SNCF relaunched a checked baggage service. Payment of a flat rate of Fr95 for the first item and Fr60 for the second will provide the passenger with a door-to-door or station-to-station baggage service within France. This will be provided by sundries operator Sernam. Cases and bags will be wrapped in a protective cover to avoid scratches or other damage. SNCF expects the service to attract passengers back to rail, particularly families and elderly people who face problems handling the luggage themselves.

SNCF is also introducing a telephone response service for passengers registering complaints - it receives around 500000 letters a year. It also making a commitment to provide better information in the event of delay; should a delay of more than 1h occur, it will provide a help desk on affected stations to assist passengers.

Numerous stations are to be re-equipped to provide better information and other services, and specially badged staff will be deployed on selected stations to help passengers. A range of measures is being taken to improve security, including more CCTV and better lighting.

SNCF said on April 2 that traffic on main line and regional services, measured in passenger-km, in January and February was 7·9% more than in 1997. According to SNCF President Louis Gallois, this was 4% more than forecast. On Ile de France services the rise was 1%. Tonne-km were up 6·8%. o