The train system of France and Europe

French trains range from local runs that stop at every tiny station to the TGV bullet train, which set the world's speed record for a national rail run (201 miles per hour, though it usually cruises at 130 miles per hour).

High-speed trains in France

Choose the right passThere are two types of high-speed rail lines in Europe.

The first are national networks of specialized and expensive high-speed trains, like France's TGV (as you travel through Europe you might also end up on similar lines in neighboring countries, like Italy's ETR/Pendolino, Spain's AVE, or Germany's ICE).

The second types the international high-speed runs with fanciful names:

Beyond these, the fastest trains you'll usually take are EC (Eurocity) or IC (Intercity). The only difference between the two is that the Eurocity train crosses an international border (overnight versions are sometimes called EN, or EuroNight).

When are reservations required for train tickets? 

Seat reservations are required on:

Bascially, you need to reserve a seat (or sleeping berth) on any train marked with an "R" on a rail schedule. The fee for this ranges from $10 up beyond $80 (the latter when a meal is included).

» More on making rail reservations

Typical train configurations

Couchette rail cars

Some trains still have the old-fashioned compartment or couchette configuration: Each car has a corridor along one side, lined with windows on the outside and doors on the other.

These doors open onto 10 little couchettes, or compartments, each of which seats six to eight people (or, in first-class compartments, four to six people in slightly cushier chairs—but that's not worth the added expense).

Straight-through rail cars

Sadly, most short-run trains and new highs-speed long-haulers are increasingly switching over to the modern straight-through cars with seats running down both sides of an open aisle.

These always make me feel more like I'm at home commuting to work than traveling in Europe on a grand tour, but hey, that's progress for you.

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The high-speed Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel gets you from London to Paris or to Brussels in just 2:40
The high-speed trip on the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel is a 45-minute non-event in darkness—but, hey, you sure do get to Paris in no time. Still, I kinda miss watching the white cliffs of Dover recede into the distance whilst chugging across the English Channel aboard a slow ferry (though I don't miss the ten hours it took to get to Paris that way).