End of the line for Motorail, gateway to the Mediterranean

Car-carrying night train service abandoned due to slump in sterling

Dinner in Calais, breakfast in Nice, car in tow: that has long been the summer regime for patrons of Motorail, the car-carrying night train through France. After a short Channel crossing, they could put their cars on a train at Calais, take their places in a couchette compartment, and sleep all the way to the Mediterranean.

No longer. The French rail service which whisks cars to the Mediterranean – and has been praised as a model for “greener” holidays – is to be abandoned after more than four decades because of the slump in sterling.

For a generation, British motorists have been able to save around 1,500 miles of driving on a round trip by using Motorail. The service has run since 1983, and this year carried around 10,000 UK travellers. For the last nine years it has been operated by Rail Europe, the British subsidiary of French Railways, specifically for UK motorists. They could choose between routes from Calais to Toulouse and Narbonne in south-west France, and to St-Raphael and Nice on the Cote d’Azur.

Rail Europe carried a forlorn little statement on its website yesterday. “French Motorail service from Calais to the South of France will sadly not be running in Summer 2010. The impact of the current economic climate and significant increases in train running costs, partly due to unfavourable exchange rates, means the service would not be financially viable.”

In truth, the service had been declining for years. Politicians and railway advocates argue that sending long-haul, holiday-bound cars by train could make an important contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions. Railway officials say that the proliferation of cheap air flights to small provincial airports in France has shunted the commercial justification for French Motorail into a siding.

“It is now much cheaper for a family to fly to the south of France on a cut-price airline and rent a car when they get there,” said a French railway official last night. “The Motorail service needed new investment but no one was prepared to take that risk at this time.”

Robert Chesshyre, a British journalist who has used the trains for many years, wrote an article last summer complaining that the stock was rundown and the windows so clouded that it was impossible to see the French countryside.

“It used to be an enormous pleasure to board one of these trains in Calais, dine in the restaurant car and wake up in the morning beside the Mediterranean. Of course the restaurant car went years ago,” he said.

“I don’t accept the argument that there is no longer a commercial demand. You can’t come home with a car-boot full of French wine if you take a cheap flight. There must be a case for starting new Motorail trains from England once Eurostar’s monopoly on passenger travel through the Channel tunnel expires.”

At one point, in the 1980s, the French railways, the SNCF, carried 40,000 British cars and over 100,000 passengers a year, on services from both Calais and Boulogne.

Rail Europe suggests that British tourists should switch to the French domestic service, AutoTrain. This offers car-carrying trains all year around to 12 destinations in France, but all the services begin in central Paris.

In April of this year, Jean Bernardi, a former French railway official who once ran French Motorail, appealed to the European Union to create a subsidised Motorail European Network to carry cars between major European cities. In an article in Rail Professional magazine, he said: “One Motorail train carrying 100 cars overnight for 1000 kilometres (600 miles) would save 16 tonnes of carbon.”

The problem was, he said, that railway companies in Europe – both privatised and state-owned – refused to see the possibilities of carrying private cars by rail. “They are unable to decide whether motorail is a passenger service, carrying passengers with their car as ‘accompanied luggage’, or a freight service, carrying cars as freight, accompanied by passengers.”

Skiers have already been told that the traditional overnight Snow Train from Calais to the Alps will not operate in the coming winter. The Mediterranean is well served by air from the UK, and some disappointed Motorail habitués are likely to fly instead and rent a car – though from tomorrow both Air France and Aer Lingus are ending their links from the UK to Nice.

“Motorail” was originally a brand introduced by British Rail, in 1966 , for car trains from Kensington Olympia to Perth. Later, there were services from London to Inverness, Fort William, Sterling, Edinburgh and Glasgow and from Bristol to Scotland. All of the trains were abandoned in 1997 after the privatization of the British railway network.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition
    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?