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.

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.