“It’s a real disappointment“summarizes Jean Pinard, director general of the Regional Tourism Committee of Occitanie. The Renfe-SNCF consortium has decided not to relaunch the Toulouse-Barcelona TGV line, in its annual 2022 service. The link had already been dormant for two years. , with the Covid-19 crisis.
“There is more than proven potential for Spanish customers. At least in Toulouse, but especially for Carcassonne, which was a stopover served by this TGV“explains the tourism professional, who reminds us that the Spanish clientele (mainly Catalan) are a very important foreign clientele in Occitania, and particularly in Toulouse and Carcassonne.
Jean Pinard also deplores this deletion, when we talk about global warming and development: “we are all now in the starting blocks to develop the tourism activity, which has a significant carbon footprint. And if there is one mode of transport that best corresponds to this transitional tourism, it is still the train!“
A badly born line
The two public companies Renfe (Spanish) and SNCF (French) joined forces in 2013 under the Renfe-SNCF brand. Taking advantage of the opening of the high-speed section between Barcelona and Perpignan, the Renfe-SNCF consortium had connected several cities with the Toulouse-Barcelona, Paris-Barcelona, Madrid-Marseille lines, etc.
But on Toulouse-Barcelona, the line is badly born. Despite the speed of the connection (3 hours instead of 4 hours by car), the schedules are not adapted. The first departure from Matabiau is set for 8:24 pm, for an arrival in Barcelona-Sants at 11:26 pm. In the other direction, you have to come back at midday: departure at 10:24 am from Barcelona to arrive at 13:31 in Toulouse.
Then there is the price: 39 euros minimum (one way) for the launch of the line in December 2013. It takes a long time before the base price drops to 29 euros, like other international TGV lines.
But, despite some adjustments, the damage is already done. The Toulouse-Barcelona offer was reduced from 2016, with trains only in summer. During the summer of 2017, attendance is around 55,000 travelers. Which is rather honorable, given the few back and forths.
In 2020, the Covid goes through there, and the line is completely absorbed, including in summer. Ditto in 2021. The burial is now confirmed, given the absence in the 2022 offer. A situation that also denounces the author of the blog “News TER Occitanie“, a railway enthusiast, who regrets the lack of political reactions to the disappearance of the Occitano-Catalan TGV line.
Fight to revive the line?
“We must without doubt that we had more to gain from the Catalan clientele than the reverse“recognizes Didier Cujives, the president of Haute-Garonne Tourisme. But the one who is also a departmental councilor”don’t want to believe the game is over“. He intends to relaunch a lobbying campaign, by partnering with the Toulouse Métropole attractiveness agency:”I assure you that with a lot of force, we will fight“.
But opening up to competition could reshuffle the cards. Renfe and SNCF are associated, but until when? The two companies are now competing in their respective countries. SNCF’s Ouigo is now rolling in Spain, with a 37% market share in just a few months on Madrid-Barcelona. Renfe announced at the end of October that it wanted to launch on Paris-London.
If the Renfe-SNCF alliance jumps, a private could take up the challenge, between Toulouse and Barcelona. Knowing that for the Generalitat of Catalonia, and tourism professionals, the line is viable, on condition of offering an offer to match.