French Train Company Offers Free Electric Car Travel on Auto-Train

By · June 17, 2013


This summer, thousands of Americans will pack up their car, cancel the paper, and head out on the open road for a family vacation. Unless you own a Tesla Model S (and happen to live in an area already serviced by a Supercharger network), a long-distance road trip by an electric vehicle is not exactly practical. Some brave souls may plan a multiday trip, charging where they can, but most will leave their electric car behind—and resort to petro-powered transportation. But French train company SNCF has a different long-distance solution for intrepid EV drivers: the Auto-train.

Announced in January, a partnership between Nissan and SNCF means European LEAF drivers planning to go to the south of France for their vacation can take their LEAF for free on the Auto-train between Paris and Nice. Popular across Europe—and available on select routes in the U.S.—Auto-Trains not only carry passengers but passenger vehicles, allowing you to travel large distances without driving or taking to the skies.

Although SNCF’s free offer is only valid for a one-way ticket between Paris and Nice, special rates are available for electric car drivers giving them preferential rates on return trips. The service includes complimentary charging of customer’s electric cars in Paris before departure, thanks to a dedicated rapid charging station at Le Gare Auto-Train de Paris Bercy.

Calm, Simple

“The experience is extremely relaxing,” Mark Nitters, a French LEAF owner told “You drop the car off before 5 p.m., and go for a nice dinner before boarding the train around 8 p.m. from Nice (or 9:30 p.m. from Paris).” Cost is comparable to driving in a gasoline car too, provided you book well in advance.

While the vehicles and passengers travel on separate trains, Nitters says the service works very well. “In the morning, you arrive well rested, and have a relaxed breakfast in the station cafe, before picking up your car around 9 a.m. It definitely beats 10 hours of freeway driving.”

Nitters will be using the Auto-Train this summer to make an epic all-electric trip from his home in southern France to Scotland. While the Auto-Train only accounts for 550 miles of the 1,350-plus mile route, Nitters says it’s well worth letting the train take the strain.

Options in America

While the Auto-Train isn’t as popular in the U.S. as it is in mainland Europe, there is one route—from Virginia to Florida—where you can take your electric car on vacation. Called the Amtrak Auto Train, the daily service runs from Lorton, Va. to Sanford, Fla.—ideal for East-coast EV fans wanting to make a trip to the Sunshine State.

While it isn’t all-electric like the Paris-Nice Auto Train, the Amtrak Auto Train is still more environmentally responsible than a plane. Admittedly, it takes a little longer than the two-and-a-half hour flight, but you won’t have to worry about baggage reclaim, queues at security, or having to rent a gas-guzzler at your destination. It's likely to cost more than the plane, but if you're planning an extended stay, it's certainly worth thinking about.

For those away from the East Coast, it’s also possible to have your EV shipped by rail if you happen to live near a freight terminal. ShipCarsNow, a subsidiary of Union Pacific, can arrange to transport your EV across country. While you’ll have to find your own rail route to your destination, the service could be a way of bringing your plug-in car on an extended summer vacation—especially if you’re planning on spending several months away from home, and don't want to be deprived of your electric car.


· · 5 years ago

Wow. just quoted me $732 to ship my Leaf from Seattle to LA, with a 6 day delivery time.

Just as a quck guesstimate looking at, you could probably *drive* that trip in a Leaf, charging every 80 miles, in about 4 days. That includes the doldrums in between the Oregon border and Sacramento where there aren't any quick chargers which I would guesstimate to add about two days. Seattle to the Oregon border would take less than a day.

So how's this supposed to be practical? I mean, I guess you wouldn't have to deal with the occasional aggravation of not-in-service quick chargers, but the train is actually *slower* than what the less adventurous would refer to as an intolerable number of stops for charging, and more expensive than flying and renting a car.

· · 5 years ago


I agree with you. Shipping "cars" around in the US is just NOT practical. Not to mention that US is larger than the entire Europe and It doesn't have nearly as good rail coverage as the EU. So, many EU things don't apply to the US.

· · 5 years ago

This is why buying a PHEV/EREV makes more sense for time like this.

People haul around that engine for situation like this. Otherwise, you have to haul additional 60KWh - 70KWh battery around with a supporting charging network. And currently, an ICE/generator is far cheaper than a 60KWh battery.

· · 5 years ago

Personally, I'd rather haul around an 85 kWh battery than an ICE. I'm not yet ready to buy a Tesla, though. But when the time comes, I'll be happy to pay a premium for the pleasure of going all-electric all the time.

In the meantime, our regular, 50+ mpg Prius does just fine on long road trips. Even if we had more auto trains in the U.S., the LEAF does not have enough range to fill in the gaps for those of us who enjoy visiting remote destinations.

· · 5 years ago

You'll note I did nod to the fact that in the US, this kind of trip only really works if you're planning an extended stay somewhere -- like a few months. In that case, shipping still could make sense if you absolutely need your EV.

For folks on the east cost however, Amtrak's Auto Train could be a great bit of fun...

· · 5 years ago

these are good but very incremental changes which may or may not all add up to overhaul the much needed current transportation system.

I blogged last year for 'personal railroad based transportation system':

By no means this is 'exactly' what is needed but we need to think big & provide a solution which uses the cutting edge technologies to provide convenience, safety and yet reduce the energy foot print per capita.

· · 5 years ago

Going on a vacation on private car is great. But if there is any danger or trouble on the roads then this is terrible. The card travel system is must.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.