In April, 1998, the French national railway (SNCF) revised its policy regarding bicycles on trains. You can no longer take your bike to the SNCF luggage counter and ask them to put it in the luggage car in the train in which you are travelling. Instead, you can:
According to information in English in the the French national railway (SNCF) "Guide du train et du velo, 29 november 1998 au 29 mai 1999":
"You may take your cycle in the TGV luggage stacks and on the wide vestibules of Corail coaches.
"These measures apply to cycles which can be folded up or placed with their wheels removed in special covers (120 x 90 cm maximum). (My note: these covers are the housse à vélo.)
"You can purchase such covers from specialised shops.
"If you are uncertain about the appropriate location, please ask train commercial staff for advice. (My note: don't count on this -- see Bad Experience with Taking the Bike on the Train.)
"The trains marked with a symbol (picture of a bicycle) in the SNCF timetables for domestic services or in the 'ville a ville' guide carry accompanied cycles free of charge. However, you will have to load/unload it yourself and you will remain responsible for it at all times. On some trains (especially regional trains) the capacity of the luggage-van is restricted to 3 cycles.
"Please ensure that you can load/unload your cycle without delaying the departure of the train, causing inconvenience or injury to other passengers."
SERNAM is the trucking company associated with the French railway. You must take the bike to, and retrieve it from the SERNAM depot. SERNAM provides a large cardboard box in which they ship your bike. The cost is 195 francs.
You can pay for shipping the bike at the train station when you buy your train ticket, or at any SERNAM office, or by telephone.
SERNAM depots may or may not be located near a railway station. You can phone 0 803 845 845 (at 1,09 francs per minute) to learn where SERNAM depots are located, for other information, and to pay for shipping via credit card.
The hours vary from depot to depot. For example, in Marseille, the depot is open Monday through Friday 8-12, 13-17 and Saturday 9-12. In Paris, the depot near the Gare de Lyon is open Monday through Friday 8-18 and Saturday 8-12.
If you want to ship your bicycle to a town where there is no SERNAM depot, you can ship it via SERNAM to an address in the town. It costs 245 f.
Whether you ship it to a SERNAM depot or to a private address, the bicycle is supposed to arrive two days after you send it.
In 1998, I and other cyclists had difficulties with shipping bicycles via SERNAM. I learned of other cyclists' difficulties via their letters that were published in the FFCT's monthly magazine.
Other riders' experiences were:
My own experiences were:
I wrote a letter to the SNCF asking to be reimbursed for the delivery delay and the missing parts. Eventually I received a reimbursement, but not for the full amount it cost me to replace the parts, since I had to send to the U.S. for parts not available in France.
According to the SNCF, on certain trains, you can put your bicycle directly in the baggage car, without putting it in a housse. These trains are indicated in the SNCF brochure by a picture of a bicycle. You just roll your bike up to the train, locate the baggage car, and ask assistance from the conductor. There are hooks in the car where you can hang your bike.
The night train to Briancon is supposed to take bikes for free in the baggage car, but when I arrived at the train (only a few minutes before departure because they were late in posting the quay where the train was) and asked the conductor to unlock the car, he said I had to pay for my bike and had to go to the ticket window. I found another conductor and asked him to unlock the car. This guy said that I had to dismantle my bike and put it in a housse. To each of these guys, I said that, according to the SNCF and the FFCT, bikes were free on this train -- but they wouldn't unlock the baggage car.
By now, it was 10 minutes before departure. I rode my bike (within the station) to the information booth (the nearest one was closed so I had to go all the way across the station). I explained the situation to a person there, who looked at a schedule and saw the picture indicating that bikes indeed were free on that train. However, he told me to wait, went away, came back, went away again in a different direction, came back, called someone on his portable phone, loaned the phone to someone else, and finally, at two minutes to departure, told me to follow him. He went downstairs (me following with my fully loaded bike), went back upstairs, and found the train conductors. He showed them the schedule saying that bikes were free on this train, and finally he himself unlocked the baggage car. I took what I needed from the bike and made sure he hung the bike on a hook. Then I rushed to my train car without even verifying that he locked the door of the baggage car. Fortunately, my bike was there when I got off the train in Briancon the next morning.
A couple of lessons to be learned from this experience are: learn enough French to deal with such emergencies, and bring the schedule with you so you can show it to the the conductors yourself.
I myself have resolved never again to send my bike via SERNAM or to trust the SNCF's employees to know anything. I will travel with my bike on the train only if I put it in the housse and keep it in the same car with me. This limits my train travel in France. It is ironic that the SNCF's advertising says, "It's up to us to make you want to take the train." when, in fact, they are doing just the opposite.
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