Tried & Tested

Rail review: Ouigo Paris-Toulouse

30 Oct 2022 by Hannah Brandler
Ouigo. Credit Alex Profit

Background

Ouigo is a low-cost train operator run by the French state-owned SNCF. It serves more than 50 destinations in France, with Lille as its northernmost point and Marseille in the south.

Destinations include Paris, Rennes, Nantes, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Montpellier and Strasbourg, among others. (SNCF also launched Ouigo Spain in 2021)

Fares start from €10 and never exceed €115. The fare structure is cheap for various reasons. Tickets are non-refundable, there is no F&B service and you have to pay extra for luggage, wifi and seat choice. There is also only one class of travel.

‘Ouigo Essentiel’ only allows a handbag or backpack (36 x 27 x 15cm) and a bag (55 x 35 x 25cm) that you can fit under the seat. ‘Ouigo Plus’ also includes a cabin bag, seat choice, free wifi and speedy boarding from rail stations in Paris.

If you don’t need all of the options included in ‘Ouigo Plus’, you can select those that are more important to you – a bag (€5), seat choice (€3-7) or wifi (€3).

You can change the date and/or time of your ticket (for €10 plus the price difference) and there’s also the option to release your ticket – if resold you will receive a voucher for 80 per cent of the original ticket price.

The majority of routes are high-speed, while others (known as ‘Ouigo Classic’) travel at 160km/h – this product launched in April 2022 and, as reported by Alex McWhirter, the train uses elderly Corail rolling stock and locomotives, with longer journey times due to conventional, rather than high-speed, lines.

This is a review of the service from Paris Montparnasse, located in the south of the French capital, to Toulouse Matabiau. My train was set to depart at 0911 and arrive in Toulouse at 1331, with a duration of 4 hours and 20 minutes. This direct route launched in 2019.

Business Traveller’s Alex McWhirter comments:

Note that this service only operates at proper high-speed (around 186 mph) between Paris-Bordeaux. For the final 138 miles, trains operate over the classic line where speeds are rather less.

There are plans to extend the HS line to Toulouse although these plans have encountered local opposition.

Ouigo. Credit Fred de Gasquet

First impressions

It’s a really easy and simple pre-departure process.

Ouigo sends your ticket via email four days prior to departure. This can be printed out or downloaded via the Ouigo app and added to your wallet on your phone.

The app is useful as it sets out everything that is included in your ticket, so there’s no confusion when you arrive. It reminded me of the sustainability element, with one train equivalent to four planes with 300 people.

The trains are also attractive, with a youthful blue and pink colour scheme.

Boarding

You are advised to arrive 30 minutes before the train is set to depart, and boarding closes five minutes before departure.

Once at Paris Montparnasse, you have to follow signs from the metro to the ‘grandes lignes’ which are located upstairs.

The platform was announced around 35 minutes before departure time. This is when it got slightly chaotic as everyone made their way to platform 2, which coincided with the soon-to-depart TGV Inoui service on platform 3.

The two aisles at the far right-hand side were reserved for latecomers to the latter, but there was no signage to make this clear so people had to start swapping queues. The gates were open and a friendly attendant scanned my ticket and wished me a good journey.

My seat was in carriage 11, so it was quite a long walk down the platform, but thankfully meant that the walk at the destination would be shorter.

Ouigo Upper Deck

The seat

The trains are double decker and I had booked a window seat on the upper deck, as these have plug sockets (though no USB). There are luggage racks between carriages, as well as a small (and very chemical-smelling) toilet.

Once I walked into the carriage, I realised why they charge extra for luggage. The overhead bins are very small and can only really fit handbags, so I returned to the racks to store my cabin bag.

I found it interesting that there is no one to police the situation with cases (unless the attendant who scanned my ticket did a quick glance at my case). An announcement on the train warns passengers that you cannot use the luggage racks if you haven’t paid for the option.

The seats on the upper deck are in a 2-2 configuration and seats on the lower deck in a 1-3 configuration (note that these three seats do not have armrests between them).

My carriage on the upper deck had four lots of four seats at a table, with the rest of the carriage filled with pairs of seats. Most seats on the upper deck have plug sockets and so are advised for those working.

I found it easy to work on my laptop thanks to the table, which partially folds out for more space.

Food and drink

As mentioned, there is no café bar. This is to maximise space and have as many seats as possible on the train.

Ouigo four seat table and plug socket

The journey

We departed on time at 0911 and the journey was very smooth, with three stops en-route. Passengers can track the live progress of their train if they have logged onto the wifi.

My carriage was full at the point of departure, but people disembarked at the three stops en-route and so I eventually had a lot of space to myself. At its busiest, however, it was still quiet and I managed to get a fair amount of work done as a result. Passengers included a mix of business people and families.

The free wifi (comically called Ouifi) worked well, with little outages throughout my journey. There are also various movies, TV shows, podcasts and digital magazines and newspapers on offer.

The app also reminds you that travelling by train is a more environmentally friendly option, emitting 50 times less carbon dioxide than a car and 80 times less than a plane (according to Ouigo).

I was also thankful for a plug socket, though there was one instance when it stopped working for a few minutes.

The journey itself was a little turbulent at times, perhaps because I was on the top deck, but this was not too disruptive.

Ouigo Ouifi

Arrival

We arrived at 1333, just two minutes behind schedule.

Disembarking was quick and there was no need to scan a ticket to exit the station to the Pink City.

Verdict

Ouigo is an easy and cheap way to travel from the French capital to the south of France, with comfortable seats, a fun bright décor and clean and quiet carriages.

The ‘Ouigo Plus’ fare is recommended, even though it is slightly more expensive, as it gives you the ability to pick a seat with a plug socket and a table, as well as fast wifi and a cabin bag.

FACT BOX

Best for

A sustainable trip to the south of France

Seat configuration

1-3 on the lower deck

2-2 on the upper deck

Price

Internet rates for a midweek single fare from Paris Montparnasse to Toulouse Matabiau in November started from €23 for Ouigo Essentiel and €30 for Ouigo Plus.

Contact

sncf.com ; ouigo.com

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