In my last post, I noted how Google Maps gives accurate information on public transportation, both local and long-distance, in Spain, Italy and Germany, but fails to do so with regard to train travel in Belgium and France. In Belgium, the information is found readily (and reliably) on the website of Belgian Railways (NMBS/SNCB), in Dutch, English, French and German. In principle it should be the same with French Railways (SNCF), but it didn’t quite work out that way with regard to a trip from Amiens to Paris.
A previous consultation of the website had shown that a train listed as Intercités 2014 was due to leave at 11:05 and arrive at the Gare du Nord at 12:29. This seemed to be an ideal connection, and when we arrived at Amiens on the preceding day the electronic timetable at the station did in fact show that train.
I had thought about getting our tickets for the train right after our arrival from Ghent (with a train change at Lille), but since the ticket office (nowadays called espace de ventes) was to be open till 21:30, we decided to do it later. When we got to the station at 8 in the evening, however, the office was closed; a printed sign on the door said that “for exceptional reasons” (unspecified) they would be closing at 19:30.
We decided to try the automatic ticket machine. The train in question was listed as having only first-class seats available, at a price more than twice of second class, but in any case the machine would not accept our American debit card. Since ticket office would open at 05:50, we could easily postpone the purchase to the morrow.
Meanwhile, checking the SNCF site on my smartphone, I found that the train we wanted was not listed at all on the reservations page, while the timetable page had it departing at 11:35.
When I got to the station (a short walk from our hotel) the next morning at 7:30, there was as yet no sign of life at the espace de ventes. I asked around, and was told variously that the office would open at 7:45 and 8:00. It was actually opened (reluctantly, it seemed) at 8:15, and I got the second-class tickets I wanted with no problem. The train, though officially an Intercités, was in fact composed of TER Picardie cars, second-class only. I wonder what we would have done with our first-class tickets, had we bought them from the machine!
A check of the SNCF website today shows the train listed, with an 11:20 departure (but still a 12:29 arrival), on both the reservations and timetable pages. Perhaps the slower time when we took it was due to track work, and perhaps the inconsistencies in the electronic information were due to a system malfunction. I have generally had good experiences riding French trains (except during strikes), and I hope that what happened last month (which, in any case, did not affect the travel itself) was a fluke.