Late Trains in France: What to Know

by  Mose Hayward
LAST UPDATED ON  2023-09-27
PUBLISHED ON  2023-05-15

Your Train Guide

Mose Hayward

Hexagonal Rail Nut

This is a look at your chances of having issues due to delays on rail lines with the national operator SNCF in France and what to do if they occur.

We have separately covered how to book French train tickets and what to know about French train strikes.

Me in the Paris train station Gare de Lyon after taking an (on-time!) fast train from Barcelona Sants Station.

The Likelihood of French Trains Suffering Delays

The percent of French SNCF trains that arrive with a delay of less than 15 minutes is at 87%, according to a study released in 2022 (read here about it in French).

So 13% of French trains are delayed by 15 minutes or more.

This represents an increase in lateness over the decades since the 1950s. Le Figaro says that the causes include an aging rail network that needs to support more trains and more passengers and does so with less staff—noting that the long lines at ticket windows are “only the tip of the iceberg” showing the problem.

While this is less than ideal, note that flying is much worse. Over half of all European flights suffered delays in the summer of 2022.

Determining if a Scheduled Train Will Be Late

The SNCF has a simple, functional page with real time information on trains. You’ll need your train number as shown on your ticket, the date, and your departure and destination points.

What to Do When You Risk Missing a Connection Due to a Delayed Train

First, keep in mind that it really only takes a few minutes to walk from one platform to another to catch your train in most stations.

If your train is running late and you will miss a connection, seek help from staff on the train as soon as possible. As our resident train ticket inspector points out, those working on trains want to help you (especially if you’re polite and calm) and are likely to have the knowledge to help you figure out a workaround.

The best way to find staff is generally to walk towards the back of the train.

Also pay attention to train announcements for information.

Getting Reimbursed When Your SNCF Train Is Late

If your train is over 30 minutes late—and the factors behind the delay are the fault of the SNCF as decided by the SNCF—you should in theory be eligible for a reimbursement.

Wherever you purchased your ticket, you’ll need to deal with SNCF’s site in order to request the reimbursement.

Go to the SNCF customer service’s delayed train page, choose the type of train and service that you were on, and fill out the form.

Many people complain about the reimbursement process on Twitter; my own experience of this was not at all good. Give it a shot, but don’t get your hopes up. We’d appreciate hearing how it goes in the comments and any advice to other travelers delayed by the SNCF.

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