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Moto Rail : Lessons Learned

7
July
2008
  Posted at 09:07:47 AM
  File under  Tips/How To Travel
  Author: Mike Werner
  Location: Normandy, France

For the first time of my life I skipped the portion Paris to the Mediterranean ride on my motorcycle. We were expected in Italy on Thursday the 3rd, and since we were leaving on Tuesday, the trip was a tad too long, and we'd done it often enough. So we decided to put the motorcycle on the train, and ourselves on another one, and pick up the bike in Nice, France Click for map.

The SNCF Auto/Moto Train Open link in a new window is a service for cars and motorcycles. They have several routes in France (the longest being Calais to Nice), so we decided to use the Paris to Nice service. You need to bring your motorcycle during the day (the train leaves at around 21:00), and you can check-in your bike after 9 in the morning.

The stewards take a quick look around your motorcycle to see if there is any apparent damage before you leave. Nothing is allowed to be loose on the bike. I had my SWMBOShe Who Must Be Obeyed's helmet attached to the rear seat with bungee cords and my own was fixed at the helmet attachment point of the BMW R1150GS.

SNCF Auto/Moto Train

After signing the document, I had my first surprise. The French rail roads, SNCF, will only take responsibility for €350 for each individual item they break. So if they wreck your mirror, they'll only give you €350 for it. But.... you can pay THEM extra money, insuring yourself against THEM wrecking anything major on your bike. Sounds like a rip-off to me, a bit like gangsters saying "pay me protection money, if not you'll get trashed".

Anyway, for the rest, the service is quite good. At the other end, the train arrives around 9 in the morning, and you wait until your bike is off-loaded (which is always one of the last, since they off-load the top layer first, and motorcycles are always on the bottom layer). You inspect the bike, and off you go.

LESSON:
Make sure you allow yourself several hours before going on the road at your destination, so don't plan to leave right after the Auto/Moto Train arrives. It may take 10 minutes, or 3 hours. Make sure you've got something to drink and eat.


Now, for us, the bit going from Paris to Nice was a real disaster. We took the night train, and for the first time we used a night train belonging to the strike crippled and inefficient SNCF Open link in a new window. Later we were told that the SNCF are trying to get rid of these trains, so they downscale the service, hoping demand reduces enough to stop the "service". In 2nd class you sleep 6 people in one small cabin,  in 1st class there are 4 people. It doesn't matter if you are not with each other, they will put people in your cabin. They don't look at gender, age, nationality etc, they'll just bunch you in a very small and tight cabin, with little or no airco, no food, no drinks (there are no services whatsoever on the train) and one toilet per wagon.

We were lucky to have two charming South African ladies sharing our cabin, so we had a few good laughs. However, we did not sleep much, since the train is noisy and shakes, rattles and rolls... Sheer hell. Not the best condition to pick up your motorcycle and brave the Italian autostradas.

(On the way back, we decided to leave early and take the high speed train, TGV, to Paris. We tried to exchange our tickets, but if we would have done that the day before, it would not have been a problem, but on the day itself, we lost the ticket for the night train. So we ended up buying new tickets. Rip off artists with the only place you'll find the word "Service" at the SNCF is in a dictionary).

LESSON:
No problem to take the Auto/Moto Rail, just don't take the rail yourself. Flying is probably cheaper, and a lot faster.


So, if you need to cross France, and don't want to ride, the Auto/Moto Rail is useful. But fly to your final destination to pick up your bike.

LESSON:
When you've gotten your motorcycle off the train, check all the fluids! I didn't (I checked them before leaving on the road trip), and 50 kms later on a downhill stretch, a truck started passing another truck, and when I tried to slow down, I no longer had a front brake!!! Better safe than dead.


I do not think the rail folks were responsible since the motorcycle is tied down at the wheels, and held down by clamps. But maybe with all the handling and vibrations something came loose. In this case the seals were loose.

The motorcycle gets pushed onboard, since you get to keep the keys. So there's no joy riding involved...





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