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Advice taking TER and TGV trains in France (Narbonne to Paris via Montpellier)

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Advice taking TER and TGV trains in France (Narbonne to Paris via Montpellier)

Old Apr 26th, 2019, 06:47 AM
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Advice taking TER and TGV trains in France (Narbonne to Paris via Montpellier)

Hi all,

Hoping for a bit of advice from those familiar with the TER and TGV trains in France. I have discovered the very useful Seat61 website which has provided a wealth of info, but have some very specific questions that I am hoping some knowledgeable Fodorites can help me with!

Background:
We are looking to travel from Narbonne to Paris on the morning of Wednesday, June 26th and will be dropping off our rental car at the Narbonne railway station first. I wanted to catch the 8:17am train; however, I quickly realized that wouldn't be possible as we cannot return the car until the rental car office opens at 8am which won’t leave us enough time to board the train at 8:17am.

Our other options, according to the SNCF website, is to take either the 9:11am or the 12:11pm, both which require a transfer: it would involve taking the TER from Narbonne to Montpellier and then transferring to a TGV to Paris. There is a 14 minute window between when the TER arrives in Montpellier and the TGV leaves.

My questions are:
  1. Do you think it is feasible to take the 9:11am knowing the earliest we can drop the car off is 8:00am? I am not sure if that is cutting it too close (I read somewhere you should plan to arrive to the train station 1 hour prior to departure, but that sounds generous). Or do you think it is a safer bet to take the 12:11pm which obviously gives ample time in the morning to drop the car off.
  2. There is only 14 minutes in between the connection -- the TER arrives in Montpellier at 10:10am and the TGV departs at 10:24am. Is that enough time to make the connection? To me it sounds like it’s cutting it quite close – especially because they are two separate train systems – but I also figure the SNCF website wouldn’t propose that as an itinerary if it weren’t feasible. Would it be better to buy the TER and TGV tickets separately and plan for the 9:11am TER and the 13:24 TGV?
  3. There are four of us and we’ll all have luggage. On the Seat61 site it mentions all TERs have luggage racks, but being a regional (I'm thinking commuter?) train, I wonder how packed it will be -- can we realistically get four of us on the train with seats and find somewhere to store our luggage or will it be a logistical nightmare? I am imagining if I had to do this back home in Toronto, four people with suitcases during rush hour would just be a nightmare and we’d likely be standing on top of our bags and each other.
I am leaning towards the 9:11am TER to TGV but mostly concerned with whether we have enough time to make it there after car drop off (and to make our TGV connection) and whether there might be any logistical issues finding a seat and space on the regional TER. Any advice (or other solutions I haven’t thought of!) would be much appreciated.

Thanks all!
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Old Apr 26th, 2019, 07:05 AM
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You certainly don't need to be at the station an hour ahead, you'd just get bored. Fifteen minutes, tops. The connection time should be OK too.

How much luggage? A 22inch each should be fine, but if you are hauling big cases they are not very compatible with train travel.

Are you spending the night in Narbonne? Can you return the car the night before?
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Old Apr 26th, 2019, 07:11 AM
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I take the train to and from Narbonne with some frequency. I don't know where the car rental agency is in relation to the station, but it can't be far, and the train station is tiny, so there's no chance of getting lost in or near it. A 9:11 train should give you plenty of time. There is absolutely no need to get to the station an hour ahead of time - 10 minutes is plenty.

A 14-minute correspondence time is generous - I often have about 6 minutes. It's not two "separate train systems." They are all SNCF trains and share tracks. All you have to do is know what track you are transferring to, and that will be displayed on the big board in the center of the station. To make sure you know which train is which, you'll need to know the destination station (I assume Paris), though in most stations there will be a ticker tape on the big board showing all interim stations, and the number of your train, which is printed on your ticket and will be displayed on the board. Once you get to your track you can look at the repères and see exactly where your train car will stop and where your seats will be.

Your image of the TER as a commuter train is probably inaccurate. They are regular-size trains and they are rarely full unless it's school-trip time. A train leaving Montpellier at 10:24 heading for Paris would not be considered a "rush hour" train. There is usually ample space for luggage, but if you're traveling with big heavy bags, you are in for a PITA. Most local travelers have little more than a briefcase or duffel or backpack, and the luggage storage spaces fill up quickly with huge tourist bags. Getting on and off the trains is also a PITA with big bags, as people line up inside and out and get on and off the trains very quickly. Travel light or you will tick people off.
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Old Apr 26th, 2019, 07:56 AM
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TER trains can be crowded - my son takes them a lot when he goes to France to visit relatives but St Cirq says that one will not be crowded unless... - if the train has first class it may be worth the extra euros as much more likely to find seats in first class and much more room for big bags as fewer seats in same size train car - yes www.seat61.com is the best site for learning about nuances of booking TGVs where early booking can save money - general info trains BETS-European Rail Experts and www.ricksteves.com.
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Old Apr 26th, 2019, 08:36 AM
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1 and 2 no problems

TERs are not "commuter trains", don't know where you got that idea from. The RER in Paris is a commuter train. It's just a regional train that doesn't go on the high speed tracks.

In fact, TERs often do have less luggage space but I have never had the case where I couldn't get mind on board. Once I think I was in a car that didn't have luggage racks, though (I don't mean overhead, I mean at the end of the car), so I had to have mine right next to me, which I could do as the train wasn't completely full, as ot was sort if in the space where someone's legs would be if they were sitting there. Some people just kind of have theirs near the doors or something. I'm not sure what seat61 wrote was accurate about how all TERS hvae luggage racks. Yes, they do overhead but you can't put suitcases up there very well, they are too small (except for a really small bag less than 20 inches).
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Old Apr 26th, 2019, 08:58 AM
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<<if the train has first class it may be worth the extra euros as much more likely to find seats in first class and much more room for big bags as fewer seats in same size train car>>

The last TER train I was on from Argèles-sur-Mer to Narbonne had exactly 10 seats in 1st class. They were absolutely identical in size to the seats in 2nd class (we measured them, just to see), and there was one tiny space for luggage that held about 4 suitcases. We were in 1st class because we had been given an upgrade because of a late train earlier in the day.

So, you are NOT necessarily more likely to find seats in 1st class and there is NOT "much more room for big bags." And the train cars are NOT always the same size - the 1st-class cars on TER trains are often the ones right behind the conductor's booth - about half or a third the size of a regular car.

Pal, when are you going to stop talking about things you don't actually know about?
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Old Apr 26th, 2019, 09:26 AM
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My French son rides regional trains Orleans- Clemont-Ferrand - 3 or 4 changes and he says they can often be quite full - maybe you better get out to other parts of France and ride regional trains.
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Old Apr 26th, 2019, 10:55 AM
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Maybe your son should ride some trains other than the ones from Orléans to Clermont-Ferrand. His experience on oh-so-many fronts seems to be severely restricted.

We probably take 50+ regional trains per year, all over the country. And that's just in France, not counting other European countries.
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Old Apr 27th, 2019, 02:05 PM
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Thank you all for your help! Your insight has been extremely valuable. In the end, you've all steered me away from the TER (I don't want to end up on an full train, struggling with suitcases, annoying everyone else around us as we struggle with our suitcases) so I just booked tickets on the 11:30 Renfe-SNCF train which unfortunately gets us into Paris later (13:53) but is a direct train so no worries about connecting and will have ample time in the morning to drop off the car first. I didn't realize that booking multiple tickets at once gave us a discount on the price per ticket, so in the end this was a great option (originally was avoiding this train because the cost was much higher than the others).

Booked first class tickets because they were only a few euros more and to PalenQ's point, in general I'm thinking first class will be less busy with fewer people travelling with luggage...unfortunately, as tourists, we're travelling with large bags, so we'll be those annoying people taking up the storage space. But will aim to be very efficient getting on and off so we don't tick the others off as StCirq has warned!

Thanks again all, much appreciated!
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Old Apr 27th, 2019, 02:37 PM
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Carry one euro coins or whatever required for the luggage trolleys to easily roll your bags anywhere in the station - return the cart to the cart racks spread around the station and you get your coins back so this is a free service. Maybe could carry your husband too!
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Old Apr 27th, 2019, 09:46 PM
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Lots of TERs are indeed commuter trains while others have extensive regional service. It all depends on the density of the area served.

Just about every car rental office has an after-hours key drop box. If you are worried about being charged for something, take photos of the car and keep your last fuel receipt. Frankly, after more than 40 years of renting cars in France, I have almost never had a problem. At my usual agency it takes me less than 60 seconds to hand in the keys and say "the tank is full, and I had no problems." This is much better than waiting for an employee to take the elevator down six levels to go and see the car.

The platform for main line trains used to be posted 20 minutes in advance. This has now been changed to 15 minutes, so there is absolutely no point in being at the station too early. When you must make a connection, 5 minutes is usually plenty of time.
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Old Apr 28th, 2019, 02:04 AM
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Glad you got it sorted out, Eggbert!

<<Carry one euro coins or whatever required for the luggage trolleys to easily roll your bags anywhere in the station - return the cart to the cart racks spread around the station and you get your coins back so this is a free service>>

In case anyone is gathering misinformation from Pal, there are no luggage trolleys in train stations in France, or none that I've seen in the last 10 years (and that includes Gare Montparnasse, Austerlitz, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Agen, Perpignan, Narbonne, and dozens of smaller stations all over the country). You cannot "easily roll your bags anywhere in the station."
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Old Apr 28th, 2019, 02:58 AM
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Yes, the baggage carts disappeared years ago… simply by disappearing. They would probably need to put at least a 50 euro deposit on them for the system to work again. In the old days, people would just abandon their cart with their one-franc deposit and the nearest homeless person would whisk them away as a personal vehicle. I did see a few in some provincial city a couple of years ago and was stunned.
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Old Apr 28th, 2019, 05:36 AM
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When I used to take the slow train from Austerlitz through Limoges to Périgueux years ago, there was a whole colony of homeless people living out of luggage carts, inside and outside the station. You don't see them anymore because there aren't any luggage carts.
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Old Apr 29th, 2019, 11:25 AM
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Advice taking TER and TGV trains in France (Narbonne to Paris via Montpellier)

Perhaps that's one good thing about being the stereotypical tourists with large bags -- the suitcases have wheels for easy wheeling around so no need to rely on the luggage trolleys anyways!
@Kerouac -- I was hoping we could just drop the car off before the office opens and inquired about that possibility to the rental company, but apparently that location doesn't allow for it.

Oh well, in the end we lost time in Paris but I think my travel mates will be pleased by not having to take the earlier train!

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Old Apr 29th, 2019, 02:43 PM
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I suppose the demise of luggage trolleys puts hardship on folks with lots of baggage - one more reason to have wheel and or pack light.
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