Voyages SNCF (formerly Rail Europe) sells passes and point-to-point tickets for rail travel around Europe. It has commercial links to all European rail operators including SNCF, Eurostar, Deutsche Bahn, Elipsos, Artésia and Thalys, and is made up of four independent companies in distinct geographical areas.
From its travel centre in Piccadilly, London, or online or via a dedicated call centre, Voyages SNCF sells tickets for European rail travel to the UK market. A wholly owned subsidiary of SNCF, Voyages SNCF distributes rail passes such as InterRail and Swiss Pass, and rail tickets for European services including:
- Eurostar and Eurostar Connections – for direct travel to Paris, Brussels, Lille and Disneyland Paris, and onward travel to a comprehensive list of French destinations.
- High-speed trains: the fastest way to travel by rail around France and into Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Italy and further afield.
- SNCF domestic services – for comprehensive service throughout France.
In 1893, the Chemin de Fer du Nord became the first French private railway to be represented in the UK, establishing an office in London's Victoria station. Almost 20 years later, the Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (PLM) opened an office at 179 Piccadilly, London.
In 1937 France nationalised its rail network and the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) was created by the merger of the state railway company with five other principal operators. SNCF created French Railways Ltd, incorporating the UK operations of its predecessors.
In 1995 French Railways Ltd opened a larger public call centre in Leake Street (near Waterloo station) in London, and two years later acquired British Rail International. SNCF subsequently merged French Railways Ltd and British Rail International to form Rail Europe Ltd.
In 2002 Rail Europe Ltd combined its Head Office operations from Piccadilly and the call centre from Leake Street into new premises in Kings Hill, Kent, and in December 2007 the Travel Centre in Piccadilly moved to new premises shared with VisitBritain located within British Columbia House, 1 Regent Street, London SW1. In February 2012, the Travel Centre moved to 193 Picadilly, London W1.
In December 2013 Rail Europe rebranded itself as Voyages-sncf.com in Europe. The North American, Australian and World websites however still use the Rail Europe brand.
Rail Europe 4A
Created in 1995, Rail Europe 4A is a joint venture between the French national rail company (SNCF) and the Swiss national railway company (SBB). The head office of Rail Europe 4A is located in Paris. The company has several local offices and General Sales Agents (GSA) in Asia, Australasia, Africa and South America.
Rail Europe 4A is a leading distributor of point to point tickets and rail passes. In 2012, Rail Europe 4A launched the Rail Europe Connexion, a magazine and website for inspirational trips in Europe.
Rail Europe, Inc.
Rail Europe, Inc. is a distributor of European rail products in North America, representing more than 35 railroad operators throughout Europe. The company also offers U.S. rail products through its travel agent web site. Rail Europe's history of doing business in North America dates back to the 1930s. In 1959, the company introduced the Eurail Pass to the North American market.
With headquarters in White Plains, New York, and a Contact Center using ISO 9001:2008 certified processes, located in Rosemont, Illinois, Rail Europe provides services in English, French and Spanish. The company's product range includes European rail passes, city-to-city rail tickets, rail 'n drive passes, high-speed train tickets (available as e-tickets in France, Spain and the United Kingdom), sightseeing passes, and hotel/rail packages. Rail Europe serves over one million travellers per year.
Rail Europe, Inc. provides a range of European travel products, including:
- Rail passes, which allow travel on European trains in a specific geographic area (defined at time of purchase) for a specific number of days. These days can be "consecutive" (i.e., 5 days in a row) or not (i.e., travel any day within a longer period of time for up to 2 months). Eurail Select and Global passes can include rail travel in 3 to 23 European countries on a single pass. And national and regional rail passes offer extensive travel within specific countries or regions.
- Rail tickets, which allow travel for one-way or round-trip journeys between cities.
- Seat reservations, which are mandatory for high-speed trains and are available to rail pass holders at discounted "passholder" rates.
- Sleeping accommodation, available on overnight trains such as City Night Line (Germany) or Elipsos (Spain, France, Italy).
- High-speed trains, which convey passengers from city centre to city centre at speeds of up to 200 mph. These include AVE (Spain), Eurostar (Britain, France, Belgium), Frecciarossa & Frecciargento (Italy), ICE (Germany), TGV (France), Thalys (Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany), Lyria (France & Switzerland) and X2000 (Sweden).
- City sightseeing tours, such as museum passes, wine-and-cheese tasting and hop-on hop-off bus tours.
- Group travel: for groups of 10 or more travellers, Rail Europe, Inc.'s group travel consultants offer personalised assistance.
Markets & channels
Rail Europe, Inc. serves the traveller directly, as well as travel agencies. Residents of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central American countries north of the Panama Canal can book directly through Rail Europe's websites, mobile site, iPhone App and Contact Center.
Rail Europe, Inc. has a business-to-business website for travel agents. It offers them the ability to make bookings via the agent website and through the Contact Center. Travel agents can book both European and US rail products through Rail Europe. Rail Europe, Inc. also offers a European Rail App for the iPhone and iPod touch through the iTunes store. The app enables travellers to choose a route or download train timetables, and allows rail-pass holders to make a seat reservation directly from their iPhone and iPod touch. Rail Europe also has a mobile version of its website.
Voyages SNCF Continentale
This wholly owned subsidiary of the French Railways is responsible for the marketing and distribution of French domestic and international rail products in continental Europe. Voyages SNCF Continentale has its headquarters in Brussels and offices in Cologne, Milan, Geneva and Madrid.
Rail Europe Chartered Operations
As well as selling and distributing tickets for SNCF and other European railways, until 2009 Rail Europe organised two chartered rail services in France. Operated by SNCF using standard French rolling stock, both services were aimed at the UK market and staffed by both French personnel (driver and guard) and English-speaking Rail Europe representatives ("Rail Travel Supervisors").
The Rail Europe Snowtrain
This chartered service operated between December or January and April to transport passengers directly to the ski resorts of the French Alps.
The journey took place in two stages; the Eurostar on a Friday from London or [Ashford International] to Paris, followed by a transfer to an overnight sleeper service composed of 10 Vu-84 "Corail" coaches with sleeping accommodation consisting of six berth "couchette" compartments. The train included a Bar/Disco coach, with disco lighting and DJ booth. This overnight service called at Chambéry, Albertville, Aime la Plagne and Landry, terminating at Bourg St Maurice early Saturday morning. The return service departed from Bourg St Maurice on Saturday evenings, with passengers arriving by Eurostar in London or Ashford on Sunday morning. The Rail Europe Snowtrain was suspended in 2009 due to economic uncertainty.
British skiers wishing to travel by train to the French Alps during the winter can now instead take the Eurostar to Paris and change for high-speed or overnight services to stations like Chamonix, Bourg St Maurice, Briançon, Moûtiers and Megève. Eurostar also runs Direct Ski services during the ski season, calling at Moûtiers, Bourg St Maurice and Aime-la-Plagne, stations which serve ski resorts including Courchevel, Les Arcs, Tignes, Méribel, Aime la Plagne and Val d'Isère.
'Motorail' services carry cars and motorbikes using car transporters attached to the train. Operating from May to September, Rail Europe's French Motorail service was aimed at travellers wishing to take their cars to the South of France and onwards with a minimum amount of driving.
The train departed from Calais several times every week during the summer months, terminating at Nice (calling at Avignon and Frejus) and Narbonne (calling at Brive la Gaillarde and Toulouse.) The service was cancelled in 2009 due to economic uncertainty.
Those wishing to take their cars to France can now drive to Paris and pick up an 'Auto-Train' service, whereby cars are transported on overnight trains to Avignon, Bordeaux, Brive la Gaillarde, Fréjus/St Raphaël, Lyon, Marseille, Narbonne, Nice, Toulon and Toulouse. Unlike on the Motorail service, passengers may then either travel on the same route with a Lunéa sleeping-car ticket or on a different train such as a daytime TGV.
- "Pierre Le Bris -- travel industry executive invented Eurailpass". San Francisco Chronicle. 11 August 2005.
- Travel Pulse. 1 November 2011.
- Jaunted 12 May 2011
- uk.Voyages-sncf.com/en/ The UK website of Voyages SNCF.
- RailEurope.com The North America website of Rail Europe.
- Voyages-sncf.eu/ The European website of Voyages SNCF.
- RailEurope-World.com The LatinAmerica, Asia, Africa website of Rail Europe.
- RailEurope.com.au The Australian website of Rail Europe.