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Trains in France

We will be traveling by the TGV train from Avignon to Paris. We are senior citizens and I’m worried sick about being able to get on board with my suitcase, carryon, and purse! Do they make sure everyone is on board before taking off?

Posted by
2574 posts

All trains from Paris to Avignon will originate from Paris. You will have at least 15 to 20 minutes to board the train as departure platforms are not announced before then.

The SNCF has a luggage service which will pickup luggage at your home/hotel and deliver it to your destination address. If you cannot lift your luggage onto the train on your own, you will either need to use the service or lighten your luggage.

Posted by
9 posts

We will be going from Avignon to Paris. How long does the train stop inAvignon? Also, do we sign up to use the luggage service just before boarding? Or, do we sign up now?

Posted by
2574 posts

My apologies for mixing up the originating city.

If you are leaving from Avignon Centre, you will have the same amount of time as when leaving Paris. More likely you will be leaving from Avignon TGV and boarding time can be as brief as 10 minutes. The problem arises at intermediate stations (many of these trains originate in Perpignan, Nimes, or Montpellier for example) as there are generally people disembarking as you are attempting to board.

It is incumbent upon you to load your own luggage. If weight or size is a concern, use the service or carry less.

Posted by
557 posts

If you click through on the page provided, you'll see that your question on when to order and probably other relevant questions are answered on the "how does it work" detail page -- you have to order at least 2 days before, they pick up your bags 24 hours later, although note they don't have pickups every day.

However, I think this adds quite a bit of hassle to your trip -- you have to specify a 4-5 hour time slot for pick-up and presumably sit around waiting for them to pick up your bags, and of course it isn't free. I'd really advise packing light enough that you can handle all your own bags yourself.

There are no checks that everyone is on board before leaving, as in they don't do any kind of airplane-style headcount or ticket scanning prior to the train departure to ensure that everyone is on the train.

Posted by
8889 posts

You know there are TWO stations in Avignon. "Avignon Centre", the old station in the centre, and "Avignon TGV" Which is on the High Speed line on the edge of the town. From Avignon Centre, you usually get a shuttle train to Avignon TGV and change to a TGV (High Speed train).
I picked a day next week to give you some typical times.

Train TER79365
Starts at Carpentras dep 08:53, has some other stops and then:
Avignon Centre arr 09:24 dep 09:27
Avignon TGV arr 09:33
Train TGV 6112
Marseille-St-Charles dep 09:02
Aix-en-Provence TGV arr 09:14 dep 09:17
Avignon TGV arr 09:41 dep 09:44
Paris Gare de Lyon arr 12:23

As you see, you have 3 minute stops for both trains.
"Do they make sure everyone is on board before taking off?" - A typical newbie question. There is nobody to "make sure" for trains. No check-in, passenger list or any such thing. Trains are simpler. You are standing on the platform and waiting for the train. It stops in front of your nose and you get on. For the TGV you will have reserved seats, so you have to get on the correct vehicle.
The train cannot move until the doors close. But if you are standing around, the conductor will assume you don't want to get on. As soon as people stop getting off, you have to get on.

"I’m worried sick about being able to get on board with my suitcase, carryon, and purse!" - you and you alone are responsible for getting your luggage on board. Do not bring more than you can carry / wheel.

Posted by
2574 posts

There are usually at least two TGVs daily from Avignon Centre direct to Paris Gare de Lyon. Taking a direct train will obviously preclude your needing to make a change at Avignon TGV or anywhere else. One of these direct trains would most likely be the easiest for you.

Posted by
8594 posts

Its like getting on or off a bus in the US. Nobody to help or care. They'll look at your ticket during the trip, not as you are boarding.

Posted by
752 posts

If you can’t book one of the direct trains from Avignon center, think about taking a taxi to the Avignon TGV Station to avoid the transfer from the shuttle train to the TGV.

Arrive early to give yourself plenty of time to find the platform for your train. Check the big board to find the platform (quai). About 15-30 before departure. you can access the platform.

Once on the platform, look for the board called “composition des trains”. Find your car number on the chart and head for that area on the platform (easier than I’m making it sound). Being near your car in advance will give you more time to load your luggage.

If one of you stands at the top of the 3 steps, and the other passes the cases up, you should be loaded in no time. If neither of you can lift the large suitcases up the 3 steps, send them on in advance. By the way, it’s been my experience when I was struggling with a bag, someone behind you will usually help shove it up the steps (but as others have said, don’t count on it!)

Posted by
5697 posts

For getting on (and off) trains we have a system -- my husband lifts up each of the roller bags and I get on with both personal items (one in my hand, the other cross-body so I have a hand free to grasp the railing.) Works for us, and we're 70+.
As long as you are inside the train doors, you can take your time finding your seats.

Posted by
39 posts

I'm following this thread and have a follow up question for the group. Once on the train, where do you stow your luggage? Are there overheads or is it at the end of the car? Thanks.

Posted by
2574 posts

There are luggage storage racks near the doors of each car. You should keep an eye on luggage until the train starts to roll. Thieves have been known to grab a bag and disembark just as the train is leaving the station. Also be careful at intermediate stops.

There are overhead racks, but they offer very little storage for anything other than coats or shopping bags.

Posted by
752 posts

Overheads for the coats and very small bags, big racks by the doors, and on my last TGV trip, more racks mid-way down the car. These midway racks seem easier to keep an eye on. I also try to book seats near the racks if possible.

Posted by
5940 posts

I try to have enough space in my luggage to consolidate prior to train travel. So coats/jackets unless I'm wearing in the suitcase as well as my purse. Is your carryon a backpack? If you have both a suitcase and a carryon suitcase, I would strongly advise rethinking. Bring less or use a small backpack/daypack. A lot of people are into fashion and want to look "good" when they travel. That's fine, but for me, its about simplicity. I don't bring much and still find that there are clothes/items I don't even end up using. I'm in my 50s and fairly strong and pretty active. I do have a problem shoulder. I have decided that as I become less able to easily get around on trains and between travel stops, I will just start bringing less and less. It's not fun to carry too much and to worry about it. Occasionally, I see older gentlemen handling their own luggage as well as their wife's. Sometimes they are less physically capable than their wives, and still they are trying to do it all. I feel sad for them.

Posted by
9 posts

Thanks for all the wonderful, helpful advice! We have booked our tickets on second class, but wondering if I should try to upgrade? Maybe first class isn’t as busy and hectic to board?

Posted by
8889 posts

We have booked our tickets on second class, but wondering if I should try to upgrade? Maybe first class isn’t as busy and hectic to board?

Doesn't make any difference. And, AFAIK there is no "upgrade" option, you would have to buy new tickets.

"busy and hectic to board?" - not really, you sound like you are not used to trains.
Think of it like the lifts (elevators) in a large building.

  • You enter the station (building) and follow signs to the correct platform (elevator)
  • You stand on the platform (in front of the elevator door).
  • The train (elevator) arrives. It is two steps in front of your nose. The doors open.
  • People get off, people get on.
  • The doors close
  • The train (elevator) moves off
Posted by
27352 posts

And just like an elevator: Don't block the door while folks are trying to get off the train! They will be stepping down with suitcases and may lurch forward. Stay well to the side of the door.

Posted by
598 posts

I'm 64, and whether I'm traveling for a week or three weeks I take the same wheeled carry-on suitcase. The Packing forum of this website has great tips: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/packing

My tips: carry about 4 outfits and spend an occasional couple of hours in a laundromat or wash things as needed in the hotel sink. Use compression bags to squeeze more into the suitcase but remember your bag will weigh more. Reduce the number of pairs of shoes as they are heavy.

If you have two people one can mount the stairs and the other lifts each bag up to him or her. When I see this done the second person balances the bag on the second or third step and the person at the top lifts it the last two steps. Works best with two small suitcases (one per person) rather than one giant suitcase holding all the clothes for both people. Make sure your purse is a cross-body or shoulder-strap style so it's out of the way and you have your hands free. You will need one hand for the suitcase and one for the railing.

Posted by
5940 posts

I will just add that we've never had issues getting on a train in Europe. Sometimes I'm a little stressed about getting off in the often short time frame. You want to be close to the door with luggage at hand when the train comes to a stop. However, for your train trip, Paris will be the terminus.

Posted by
16894 posts

A "suitcase, carryon, and purse" sounds like one piece too many, but it does depend on size. We recommend packing light so that you can handle your luggage yourself in a variety of situations.

However, it's also true that those with "limited mobility due to age" can qualify for free (reserved) boarding assistance. Part of this info will be in French.

Posted by
4062 posts

There's a shuttle between Avignon Centre and Avignon TGV taking five minutes.
On the platform at the TGV is a diagram showing the train cars by number so you can guess approximately where to stand and wait.
Avignon Centre, being older and serving regional destinations, has several platforms for you to sort out. I've taken the Avignon Centre-Paris train via Lyon, before the days of TGV. It's scenic in the Rhone Valley. It also takes twice as long. "Direct" does not mean "non-stop".

Luggage space on TGVs is somewhat limited. If your suitcase is too big or too heavy for the overhead bin, you're on your own to find space in the racks at the end of the car. Sometimes there is space between the seat-backs, where the seats alternate forward- and rear-facing positions.

As always, www.seat61.com is the fallback resource.