The Independent

Is Lumo Britain’s answer to budget French train Ouigo?


Q I read your Train Talk feature about Ouigo, the French lowcost train brand. Isn’t it basically what Lumo is between London and Edinburgh? OK, Lumo doesn’t nickel and dime on luggage, but other than that they’re a low-cost, single-class operation the same as Ouigo. Neil W

A Last week I travelled from Aix-en-Provence in southern France to Disneyland Paris on a Ouigo high-speed, no-frills train. I have also used Lumo, the “open access” operator between London King’s Cross and Edinburgh, fairly frequently. A strong similarity is that they both use one-class, high-density seating. Another is attracting travellers from low-cost airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair. After that, the business models and passenger experience diverge markedly. Let me go through them one by one.

Ouigo, which uses old SNCF (French Railways) TGV rolling stock, was conceived as a very different experience from the traditiona­l train trip. Tickets are sold only online. This cuts costs and differenti­ates Ouigo from “normal” SNCF high-speed trains. Conversely, I can happily queue up at a rail booking office anywhere in the UK and buy a Lumo ticket, which means a proportion of my fare will go to the vendor. I can also get a railcard discount on Lumo, which disrupts the “yield management” model underpinni­ng low-cost travel. Ouigo does not accept French Railways discount cards.

Ouigo has strict luggage limits (small backpack plus roll-along case) with extra charges for bigger consignmen­ts, and has a minimum five-minute cut-off after which you are not getting on the train; on Lumo, 30 seconds is time enough. The “from” and “to” is important, as well. I boarded at a grim out-of-town station midway between Aix and Marseille airport and ended up at Disneyland Paris, a 40-minute suburban train ride from the centre of the French capital. Using a “secondary” station avoids SNCF competing with itself. But Ouigo uses exactly the same city-centre stations as LNER, the state-run incumbent, and is happy to lure passengers away from its rail rival – it is an independen­t operator.

Talking to Mark Smith, the internatio­nal rail guru known as The Man in Seat 61, there is one more difference. He is alarmed at the “Ouigo-isation” of some SNCF services, whereby a normal train is replaced by the budget brand – reducing choice and flexibilit­y. Lumo is purely additive, increasing capacity and providing valuable competitio­n. I believe the UK could learn

from Ouigo, though: I would be happy to see some ultra-lowcost operations, perhaps to and from London suburban stations with spare capacity, with fares that would help to lure travellers out of their cars.

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 ?? ?? The train companies’ business mode l s and passenger experience diverge marked l y (Getty/iStock)
The train companies’ business mode l s and passenger experience diverge marked l y (Getty/iStock)

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