If you will be taking a journey by TER train services in France, our guide will take you through the travelling experience.
Accessing the train
Attributes of the train
Which country these trains operate in.
As a wide variety of different train services are used on TER trains the on-board experiences can vary, including whether 1st class/Premiére class seating will or won't be available.
Comparatively new trains are being introduced on many TER routes across France and the new trains can have Wi-Fi and power sockets, so these facilities aren't guaranteed.
If you discover them on board, treat them as travel perk, but avoid relying on them being available.
TER is a train service and not a specific train;as the images above show, a wide range of trains is used on the routes taken by TER trains.
You could find yourself on one of the most modern trains used in France, or on one of the oldest, though those older trains are becoming less common.
TER is a term that's generally used by the national rail operator SNCF to designate regional trains and local trains outside of the main cities.
Travelling by TER train services has been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, because seat reservations, which didn't use to be even available on these trains, are currently mandatory, in order to ensure that passengers can have assigned seats which maintain social distancing.
Seats will be automatically assigned when booking tickets online or at stations.
There are in effect three types of TER train services, so what SMTJ has striven to provide is insight into what you can expect when traveling by these trains.
(1) Trains that travel comparatively long distances
These services link major towns and cities by passing through multiple regions, but don't use the high speed lines.
A variety of trains are used for these services, but some of the oldest trains in France are used on some of these longer routes - including:
(1) Strasbourg - Colmar - Mulhouse - Basel
(2) Lyon - Valence - Avignon Centre - Mirimas - Arles - Marseille
Though brand new trains, which compare favorably with the older Intercités trains are being introduced across France
Premiere/1st class is available on most of these longer distance routes.
Also some routes to and from Paris, which until recently were designated as Intercités (IC) services, have now been designated TER services.
And on these routes brand new double-deck trains are rapidly entering services; they're so new that SMTJ hasn't yet had the opportunity to capture any images!
(2) Long distance and local trains that stop at all stations in the rural areas.
(3) Local trains to/from cities other than Paris.
The majority of the trains in this third category are new and some are double-decked many French regions have evidently been investing in rail transport in recent years.
And these new TER trains are comparatively comfortable, many of the single deck variants have particularly large windows – which come into their own in scenic areas.
On most routes that fall into this third category, all of the trains are 2nd class only
The ticket prices travel for TER train services aren't typically discounted if you book ahead, but a key exception are some of the routes to/from Paris, which until the most recent timetable change, were designated as Intercités services:
On other routes, booking tickets last minute at the station; the SNCF ticket machines are comparatively easy to use; is typically the better option if when looking up the journey online you are offered 'Tarif Normal' tickets.
That's because these tickets can't then be exchanged or refunded at all if you subsequently have to change or abandon your travel plans, but despite that, you won't save money by booking them ahead online.
If 'Bilet Tarif Normal' tickets are an option, they can't be exchanged , but can be refunded up until the day before your booked travel date; so you won't be able to get your money back if you have to abandon your trip at the last minute.
So as you won't be saving money by booking ahead online, you may as well avoid risking being caught in these scenarios and purchase walk up tickets at the station.
Look up the journey:
Although we don't recommend booking those types of tickets for TER journeys online, we do suggest that you look up the journey you will be taking on the SNCF Connect (national French railways) website.
There are two reasons why this is recommended.
(1) When travelling between some destinations in France, there can be a choice between taking a TER service and/or TGV InOui services and Intercités services.
When that is the case, the tickets for those alternative services MAY be cheaper if you can book ahead; and those alternative express train services will also likely get you to destination faster.
(2) On many routes TER trains can depart infrequently, gaps of more than four hours between departures are not unusual.
So looking up the departure times before you head to the station to buy a ticket and catch your train, is highly recommended.
Though TER services usually operate at least hourly on:
Book a ticket online or a station for a journey by TER service and you can't then use it on a TGV train OR on an Intercités service - when an Intercités route has compulsory reservations.
Users of InterRail and Eurail passes used to be able to hop on any TER service but that is sadly no longer the case, as this still the situation on only some TER services.
On routes between Paris and both Normandy and the Hauts-de-France region the TER trains which have a mandatory reservation fee of €1.50, which is only available from station ticket counters.
So this reservation fee is now mandatory when travelling by TER train from Paris to the likes of Amiens, Bayeux, Boulogne, Caen, Cherbourg, Rouen and Le Havre.
As of July 1st 2022,two regions of France have declared that Eurail and InterRail passes will no longer be valid at all on TER trains for journeys wholly within the region, if the rail passes have been purchased after July 1st.
Though it seems as though Eurail and InterRail may be trying to resolve this.
The two regions are
Affected routes, for travel in either direction, include:
Nimes -Montpellier - Beziers - Narbonne - Perpignan - Cerbere; for connections over the Spanish border
Toulouse - Carcassonne - Narbonne - Perpignan - Cerbere
Marseille - Toulon - St Raphael - Cannes - Antibes - Nice
Grasse - Cannes - Antibes - Nice - Monte-Carlo - Menton - Ventimille / Ventigmlia, which is currently the only train service which crosses the Franco / Italian border on the Mediterranean coast.
Therefore a the current time, the only means of avoiding having to buy separate tickets on the Marseille → Nice and Nimes → Perpignan routes, for future purchases of rail pass users, is to pay the reservation fees and travel by the TGV trains.
As different types of train are used for TER services there will be variations in the specifics of the travelling experience, but the following five things apply irrespective of which route you will be taking.
(1) Seat reservations are not available on the trains used for TER services, so seats are not guaranteed - which is why rail pass users don't have to pay any additional fees when taking TER services.
Seat reservations are temporarily mandatory.
If you will be joining a TER service, which will be commencing its journey at a large city station, aim to be there around 20 mins before the train is due to depart.
You can join the rush towards the train, which usually occurs when the departure details are confirmed.
(2) When 1st class is available it can be comparatively difficult to spot from the outside of the train.
So it can be easier to board by any door and walk through the train to find the 1st class seating.
Also take care not to be sat in 1st class in error if you have a 2nd class ticket.
(3) If you are taking a long trip by TER, take food/drink on board with you, TER trains have no on board catering facilities.
(4) Power sockets are only available on the more modern TER trains.
(5) On board announcements are in French only and the conductors may not speak English.
This is one of more than 150 train guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.