The government is pleased to have kept its promise to abolish domestic flights when a rail alternative of less than 2:30 hours existed, even if the measure only concerns three connections, between Paris-Orly and Bordeaux, Lyon and Nantes, for some already closed. On the other hand, the main domestic flights departing from Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle are maintained.

“We assume that for connections at Roissy airport, we do not break certain air links, otherwise the big companies do not set up in Lyon and Bordeaux, if you are not connected to Roissy, because there, there is no rail alternative within 2:30 a.m. ”, defended the Minister of Transport, Clément Beaune, Thursday, May 25, on France Info.

2h 25 on average between Lyon and Roissy

This assertion must have boosted the 45 million annual passengers on the Paris-Lyon line, the busiest in Europe. Among the 240 daily trains that travel this section, a direct regular connection serves Lyon’s main station, Lyon-Part-Dieu, located in the heart of the business district, from Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport. The journey takes an average of 2:25 hours, the shortest being 2:01 hours, 29 minutes less than the ceiling set by the government.

Can Clément Beaune ignore it? The French authorities had acknowledged, on June 21, 2022, in a transmission to the European Commission, that “the rail journeys [serving Lyon, as well as Rennes, from Orly] can offer travel times of less than 2.5 hours.”

At the time, Clément Beaune was not yet minister in charge of transport – he was appointed on July 4, two weeks later – but he was already minister delegate in charge of Europe. When questioned, Mr. Beaune’s cabinet did not respond to questions from Le Monde.

A decree cut to save Paris-Lyon flights

The government is making contortions to save the Roissy-Lyon air link. Upon his request to the European Commission, he called for it to be excluded from his plan to ban short-term domestic connections, arguing that the rail services to Rennes and Lyon “do not allow access early enough in the morning to the airport of Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle (or Lyon-Saint-Exupéry, in the case of the Lyon-Marseille line), or to leave sufficiently late in the evening”.

A year later, the implementing decree published on May 22 was also drafted in such a way as to spare the Roissy-Lyon route from prohibited lines, with a different argument. A passage of article 1 specifies, in not very intuitive terms that “where the most important in terms of traffic of the two airports concerned is directly served by a high-speed rail service, the station chosen is that serving this airport”.

Concretely, to compare with the Roissy-Lyon air line, it is the Roissy-Saint-Exupéry TGV line that the decree chooses as the reference rail route, rather than Roissy-Part-Dieu. An option that does not change much in terms of travel time (1h54), but a lot in terms of frequency and hourly amplitude.

The surprise criterion of eight hours of presence on site

Indeed, the decree adds other restrictive criteria. In addition to the very subjective existence of “satisfactory” timetables, he specifies that the rail alternative to an air link “must allow more than eight hours of presence on site during the day, throughout the year”. Concretely, a traveler who gets off his train at 9 a.m. must be able to leave this same station within eight hours, so until 5 p.m.

Conditions easily checked by the Roissy-Part-Dieu link (arrival with the first train at 9 a.m., last departure in the return direction at 7:59 p.m.). But not that between Roissy and Lyon Saint-Exupéry: the rail connection between the two airports offers at best a first arrival at 2:30 p.m. and a last departure at 8:06 p.m., i.e. just under six hours on site.

In fact, few travelers choose the train to travel between two airports. But thus tied up, the decree made it possible to save the Paris-Lyon airline, even though a rail alternative of less than 2:30 hours exists.