Transportation in France relies on one of the densest networks in the world with 146 km of road and 6.2 km of rail lines per 100 km2. It is built as a web with Paris at its center. Rail, road, air and water are all widely developed forms of transportation in France.
The first important human improvements were the Roman roads linking major settlements and providing quick passage for marching armies.
All through the Middle Ages improvements were few and second rate. Transport became slow and awkward to use. The early modern period saw great improvements. There was a very quick production of canals connecting rivers. It also saw great changes in oceanic shipping. Rather than expensive galleys, wind powered ships that were much faster and had more room for cargo became popular for coastal trade. Transatlantic shipping with the New World turned cities such as Nantes, Bordeaux, Cherbourg-Octeville and Le Havre into major ports.
Main article: Rail transport in France
There is a total of 29,901 kilometres (18,580 mi) of railway in France, mostly operated by SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français), the French national railway company. Like the road system, the French railways are subsidised by the state, receiving €13.2 billion in 2013. The railway system is a small portion of total travel, accounting for less than 10% of passenger travel.
From 1981 onwards, a newly constructed set of high-speed Lignes à Grande Vitesse (LGV) lines linked France's most populous areas with the capital, starting with Paris-Lyon. In 1994, the Channel Tunnel opened, connecting France and Great Britain by rail under the English Channel. The TGV has set many world speed records, the most recent on 3 April 2007, when a new version of the TGV dubbed the V150 with larger wheels than the usual TGV, and a stronger 25,000 hp (18,600 kW) engine, broke the world speed record for conventional rail trains, reaching 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph).
Trains, unlike road traffic, drive on the left (except in Alsace-Moselle). Metro and tramway services are not thought of as trains and usually follow road traffic in driving on the right (except the Lyon Metro).
France was ranked 7th among national European rail systems in the 2017 European Railway Performance Index for intensity of use, quality of service and safety performance, a decrease from previous years.
The French non-TGV intercity service (TET) is in decline, with old infrastructure and trains. It is likely to be hit further as the French government is planning to remove the monopoly that rail currently has on long-distance journeys by letting coach operators compete. Travel to the UK through the Channel Tunnel has grown in recent years, and from May 2015 passengers have been able to travel direct to Marseille, Avignon and Lyon. Eurostar is also introducing new Class 374 trains and refurbishing the current Class 373s.
The French government are making plans to privatise the French railway network, following a similar model Great Britain used from the 1990s until the 2020s.
Main article: Rapid transit in France
Six cities in France currently have a rapid transit service (frequently known as a 'metro'). Full metro systems are in operation in Paris (16 lines), Lyon (4 lines) and Marseille (2 lines). Light metro (VAL-type) systems are in use in Lille (2 lines), Toulouse (2 lines) and Rennes (2 lines).
Main article: Trams in France
In spite of the closure of most of France's first generation tram systems in earlier years, a fast-growing number of France's major cities have modern tram or light rail networks, including Paris, Lyon (Lyon having the biggest one), Toulouse, Montpellier, Saint-Étienne, Strasbourg and Nantes. Recently the tram has seen a very big revival with many experiments such as ground level power supply in Bordeaux, or trolleybuses pretending to be trams in Nancy.
This way of travelling started disappearing in France at the end of the 1930s. Only Lille, Marseille and Saint-Étienne have never given up their tram systems. Since the 1980s, several cities have re-introduced it.
The following French towns and cities run light rail or tram systems:
Tram systems are planned or under construction in Tours, and Fort-de-France.
The revival of tram networks in France has brought about a number of technical developments both in the traction systems and in the styling of the cars:
Prominent bi-articulated "tram-like" Van Hool vehicles (Mettis) are used in Metz since 2013. They work as classic trams but without needing rails and catenaries, and can transport up to 155 passengers while being ecological thanks to a diesel-electric hybrid engine. In the starting up, batteries feed the engine of the bus, which can then roll 150 meters before the diesel engine takes over.
There are ~950,000 km (590,000 mi) of roads in France. The French motorway network or autoroute system consists largely of toll roads, except around large cities and in parts of the north. It is a network totalling 12,000 km (7,500 mi) of motorways operated by private companies such as Sanef (Société des autoroutes du Nord et de l'Est de la France). It has the 8th largest highway network in the world, trailing only the United States, China, India, Russia, Japan, Canada, Spain and Germany.
France currently counts 30,500 km of major trunk roads or routes nationales and state-owned motorways. By way of comparison, the routes départementales cover a total distance of 365,000 km. The main trunk road network reflects the centralising tradition of France: the majority of them leave the gates of Paris. Indeed, trunk roads begin on the parvis of Notre-Dame of Paris at Kilometre Zero. To ensure an effective road network, new roads not serving Paris were created.
France is believed to be the most car-dependent country in Europe. In 2005, 937 billion vehicle kilometres were travelled in France (85% by car).
In order to overcome this dependence, in France and many more countries the long-distance coaches' market has been liberalised. Since 2015, with the law Macron, the market has exploded: the increasing demand lead to a higher supply of bus services and coach companies.
Black Saturday refers, in France, to the day of the year when road traffic is most dense due to the many departures on holiday. (Traffic problems are exacerbated by France's extreme centralisation, with Paris being the hub of the entire national highway network.) This Saturday is usually at the end of July, though in 2007 both the last Saturday of July and the first Saturday of August are designated as Black Saturdays. The Autoroute du Soleil, the highway to the south of France and Spain, is usually particularly busy. In 2004 there was more than 700 kilometres (430 mi) in accumulated traffic congestion. The black colour is the qualification with which the French government web site Bison Futé designates a day with extrêmement dense (extremely busy) traffic. The French newspapers call this day samedi noir after Bison Futé's designation. Usually, the French call these days les jours de grands départs (days of great departures). In Dutch, this French phenomenon was known as zwarte zaterdag long before the French adopted the term samedi noir, both meaning (literally) Black Saturday.
The term Black Saturday may also refer to Saturday July 31, 1982, when the worst road accident in French history happened. Around 1:45 AM, a coach collided into passenger cars near Beaune in dense holiday traffic during rainfall. The collision and subsequent fire killed 53 people, among which 46 were children. After this crash, a regulation was enforced to prohibit the transportation of groups of children during this part of the year.
Main article: Electric road
France plans to invest 30 to 40 billion euro by 2035 in an electric road system spanning 8,800 kilometers that recharges electric cars, buses and trucks while driving. Two projects for assessment of electric road technologies were announced in 2023. Three technologies are being considered: inductive charging, overhead lines, and ground-level power supply. Inductive charging is not considered a mature technology as it delivers the least power, loses 20%-25% of the supplied power when installed on trucks, and its health effects have yet to be documented. Overhead lines is the most mature technology, but the catenaries and overhead wires pose safety and maintenance issues. Ground-level power supply technologies, provided by Alstom, Elonroad, and others, are considered the most likely candidate for electric roads. A working group of the French Ministry of Ecology recommended adopting a European electric road standard formulated with Sweden, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, and others.
The first standard for electrical equipment on-board a vehicle powered by a rail electric road system (ERS), CENELEC Technical Standard 50717, has been approved in late 2022. Following standards, encompassing "full interoperability" and a "unified and interoperable solution" for ground-level power supply, are scheduled to be published by the end 2024, detailing complete "specifications for communication and power supply through conductive rails embedded in the road".
Alstom has developed a ground-level power supply (alimentation par le sol - APS) system for use with buses and other vehicles. The system has been tested for compatibility with snow plows and for safety under exposure to snow, ice, salting, and saturated brine. Alstom will trial its electric road system on the public road RN205 in the Rhône-Alpes region between 2024 and 2027.
Main article: Bus transport in France
In most, if not all, French cities, urban bus services are provided at a flat-rate charge for individual journeys. Many cities have bus services that operate well out into the suburbs or even the country. Fares are normally cheap, but rural services can be limited, especially on weekends.
Trains have long had a monopoly on inter-regional buses, but in 2015 the French government introduced reforms to allow bus operators to travel these routes.
The French natural and man-made waterways network is the largest in Europe extending to over 8,500 kilometres (5,300 mi) of which (VNF, English: Navigable Waterways of France), the French navigation authority, manages the navigable sections. Some of the navigable rivers include the Loire, Seine and Rhône. The assets managed by VNF comprise 6,700 kilometres (4,200 mi) of waterways, made up of 3,800 kilometres (2,400 mi) of canals and 2,900 kilometres (1,800 mi) of navigable rivers, 494 dams, 1595 locks, 74 navigable aqueducts, 65 reservoirs, 35 tunnels and a land area of 800 km2 (310 sq mi). Two significant waterways not under VNF's control are the navigable sections of the River Somme and the Brittany Canals, which are both under local management.
Approximately 20% of the network is suitable for commercial boats of over 1000 tonnes and the VNF has an ongoing programme of maintenance and modernisation to increase depth of waterways, widths of locks and headroom under bridges to support France's strategy of encouraging freight onto water.
France has an extensive merchant marine, including 55 ships of size Gross register tonnage 1,000 and above. The country also maintains a captive register for French-owned ships in Iles Kerguelen (French Southern and Antarctic Lands).
French companies operate over 1,400 ships of which 700 are registered in France. France's 110 shipping firms employ 12,500 personnel at sea and 15,500 on shore. Each year, 305 million tonnes of goods and 15 million passengers are transported by sea. Marine transport is responsible for 72% of France's imports and exports.
France also boasts a number of seaports and harbours, including Bayonne, Bordeaux, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Brest, Calais, Cherbourg-Octeville, Dunkerque, Fos-sur-Mer, La Pallice, Le Havre, Lorient, Marseille, Nantes, Nice, Paris, Port-la-Nouvelle, Port-Vendres, Roscoff, Rouen, Saint-Nazaire, Saint-Malo, Sète, Strasbourg and Toulon.
There are approximately 478 airports in France (1999 est.) and by a 2005 estimate, there are three heliports. 288 of the airports have paved runways, with the remaining 199 being unpaved.[clarification needed]
Among the airspace governance authorities active in France, one is Aéroports de Paris, which has authority over the Paris region, managing 14 airports including the two busiest in France, Charles de Gaulle Airport and Orly Airport. The former, located in Roissy near Paris, is the fifth busiest airport in the world with 60 million passenger movements in 2008, and France's primary international airport, serving over 100 airlines.
The national carrier of France is Air France, a full service global airline which flies to 20 domestic destinations and 150 international destinations in 83 countries (including Overseas departments and territories of France) across all 6 major continents.