European express train offers fourth-class tickets – just don't expect a seat

Tickets can cost as little as €10 but passengers may have to stand for the whole trip

Third-class travel is returning to a key international rail link - together with an even lower grade that puts the "stand" in standby.

A new no-frills train between Paris and Brussels is to launch on Sunday. Branded "Izy", it is an offshoot of Thalys - the high-speed operator that connects the French and Belgian capitals and extends into Holland and Germany. Unlike the existing conventional services, it is run like a budget airline - with the prospect of even less comfort for those paying the lowest fares.

Passengers can choose from four grades of travel. The best is Standard XL, akin to first class, with a power socket at every seat; fares start at €29 (£23) one way. Next is Standard, with seats costing as little as €19 - less than half the lowest price on normal Thalys services.

But Izy is intended to lure customers from coach operators such as Megabus - which has fares from about €8 for the four-hour ride between Paris and Brussels. So there are two cheaper options for a limited number of passengers.

The Folding Seat category corresponds to third-class. For €15 the passenger gets one of 25 fold-down seats. The operator concedes the option "offers limited comfort," and that it is "not recommended for people with reduced mobility, pregnant women, infirm passengers, children under 12 and elderly people".

Fourth-class costs as little as €10, and is called "Non-Guaranteed Seat" - in other words, possibly standing up for the whole trip. Up to 10 people can stand in the unused buffet car area.

The train operator says: "Lateral supports and high tables are at your disposal so that you enjoy a pleasant moment during your journey."

Should their luck be in, though, the passenger may get a seat: "If a seat is available, the train manager will let you know as soon as possible after departure."

The normal Thalys service takes about 90 minutes between Paris and Brussels. The Izy trains will take about an hour longer because of the curious route they take. The high-speed line from Paris as far as Lille is heavily used, by Eurostar and French domestic trains as well as Thalys. So Izy services will run on the “classic” tracks from Paris via Arras, picking up the lightly-used high-speed line to Brussels at the Belgian border.

Luggage is restricted to one cabin-baggage-sized piece plus a handbag or laptop case - though as with budget airlines, you can pay for extra luggage either at the time of booking (€10) or at the station (€30). Dogs can be carried for only €5 more than the excess-baggage fee.

Tickets are sold exclusively online, either through izy.com or the Izy app. The new service emulates some aspects of the French railways' no-frills option, Ouigo, but the concept of standing-room-only on a 200-mile journey is new. While some British rail travellers are wearily accustomed to standing for long journeys, on many continental expresses reserved seats are compulsory.

Mark Smith, founder of the international rail website seat61.com, said: "Anyone thinking of using Izy had better check the small print carefully. This isn't regular easy-going European rail travel but a train saddled with budget airline baggage restrictions. But Ouigo has already proved successful, showing that people will jump through any number of hoops for a bargain basement price. And at least, it has to be better than a bus."

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