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French train strike set to cause major disruption

Travellers and commuters in France have been warned to expect disruption to their travel plans over the next two days when rail workers will stage a strike in protest against proposed reforms. Find out if you will be affected.

French train strike set to cause major disruption
Travellers and commuters in France should expect delays on the country's rail network on Wednesday evening and Thursday, amid strikes by railworkers. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

France’s rail network will be hit by a nationwide strike on Wednesday evening and Thursday with passengers being warned to expect delays.

Three main rail workers unions – CGT, UNSA, and Sud-Rail – called their members to strike and will be joined by two others, FO and FiRST, who are protesting against rail reforms as well as working conditions and wages.

The strike will begin on Wednesday at 7pm and last until Friday 8am. See below if you will be affected:

  •          TGV: French rail bosses SNCF say 6 out of 10 TGV trains will be operating throughout the strike. On the "TGV Est" line, SNCF says traffic will be “close to normal”.
  •          Eurostar trains between Paris and London will run as normal as will Thalys trains towards Germany and Luxembourg and Spain.
  •          Lyria trains, which run between France and Italy, will have seven out ten trains operating.
  •          On TER trains linking many French towns and cities, travel plans might have to be altered with six out of ten services operating.
  •          Intercité trains will also be reduced with one out of two services cut, however the level of this service will vary from region to region. The Paris to Cherbourg line and the Paris – Limoges-Toulouse- Cerbère line will be hit by disruption.  Services between Paris and Rouen and Paris and Boulogne will also be affected.

PARIS REGION

Commuters in Paris will not escape the disruption caused by the strike, with those travelling on RER trains particularly affected, including those who need to get to Charles de Gaulle airport.

  • On the RER B northern section, which serves Charles de Gaulle airport from Gare du Nord, only one in four trains will be operating, so passengers are advised to give themselves plenty of time to get to the airport or risk missing their flight.
  • On the RER lines C, D and E, one in two trains will be running. Only the RER A will operate a normal service.

No trains will be running overnight on Wednesday through to Thursday or Thursday through to Friday.

In a statement, France's rail operator SNCF said that 250,000 leaflets will be distributed to customers in stations, and one million emails and thousands of text messages will be sent out warning of the disruption. 

The proposed reforms to the French rail system are set to be debated in the French parliament after the municipal elections in May next year. The reforms are aimed at stabilizing debt, which currently stands at €40 billion and also preparing for the opening up of the network to competition.

At time of publication, SNCF did not have comprehensive information of delays and disruptions, but travellers should be able to find out if a specific, scheduled journey will be delayed, by consulting the SNCF trip planner (in English).

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MIDDLE EAST

‘Opportunistic’ Macron on a mission to restore France’s lost Middle East clout

From mediating in the crisis in Lebanon to defending Iran's nuclear deal, President Emmanuel Macron aims to fill the vacuum left by an isolationist America to boost France's clout in the Middle East.

'Opportunistic' Macron on a mission to restore France's lost Middle East clout
Macron with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud Photo: AFP PHOTO / SAUDI ROYAL PALACE / BANDAR AL-JALOUD
On Saturday, Macron hosted Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri for talks aimed at trying to resolve the crisis triggered by Hariri's shock decision to resign on November 4.
   
Hariri's announcement, which he made in Saudi capital Riyadh, was seen as a serious escalation of the regional battle for dominance between Saudi Arabia and Iran being fought by proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon and other countries.
   
Into the fray strode Macron, who was elected this year on a promise to restore France's international standing after years in which, in the Middle East particularly, the former colonial power had looked increasingly
irrelevant.
   
“Macron is extremely opportunistic and is filling the void left by the US and the UK in the Middle East, positioning France as a playmaker in the region along with Russia,” said Olivier Guitta, the managing director of GlobalStrat, a geopolitical risk consultancy firm.
 
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Iran tells France nuclear deal 'not negotiable'Photo: AFP

Walking diplomatic tightrope
 
France had mandate power over both Lebanon and Syria during the first half of the 20th century but its influence in the two countries has waned in recent years, in tandem with France's economic decline.
   
By inviting Saudi-backed Hariri to Paris, holding telephone talks with the leaders of the US, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt, and announcing a visit next year to Iran, Macron hopes to re-establish France as a key player in the region.
 
“It's important to talk to everyone,” the 39-year-old politician, a rookie in diplomatic terms, said after a surprise visit to Riyadh on November 10.
   
In Lebanon, historically a battleground for proxy wars and where the Iranian-backed Shia Muslim movement Hezbollah has been increasingly assertive, the media broadly welcomed Macron's intervention.
   
For the pro-Hezbollah newspaper Al-Akhbar it signalled the return of France to the posse of powers jostling for influence, “alongside the Americans, the Saudis and the Iranians”.
 
Macron (R) embraces Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (L). Photo: AFP    
 
Macron drew particular praise for reaching out to all sides, unlike US President Donald Trump, who has voiced unconditional support for US ally Saudi Arabia over longstanding foe Iran.
 
As with the Paris climate agreement, which Macron has staunchly defended in the face of Trump's climate scepticism, the French president has also stood by a landmark nuclear deal reached with Iran in 2015 that Trump has called into question.
   
“If you want to stop any relation with Iran regarding nuclear activity, you will create a new North Korea,” Macron told Time magazine in an interview earlier this month.
   
But he has also attempted to assuage US and Israeli concerns about a resurgent Iran, by repeatedly criticising Tehran's ballistic missile programme.
   
At the weekend he went further, accusing Iran and Hezbollah of “destabilising action… in the region”.
 
For GlobalStrat's Guitta, the statements showed France's position had changed little and that it remained “one of the most vocal critics of the Iranian regime”.
 
Lost prestige
 
Frederic Charillon, a professor at Sciences Po university in Paris, said France's youngest ever president stood to gain from even modest advances.
   
“If France allows the least diplomatic progress it will regain prestige it lost in the region in recent years and strengthen its position in future negotiations on Syria,” he wrote in Lebanon's L'Orient le Jour newspaper.
   
But by trying to court all sides, he risked drawing a blank with one of them, Charillon warned.
 
Macron visits the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi. Photo: AFP   
 
Success in Lebanon would burnish his reputation as a consummate negotiator, four months after he got Libya's rival leaders to agree to a conditional ceasefire at talks in Paris.
   
Some observers have, however, expressed scepticism about France's ability to play a leading role in the Middle East, where the US, Russia and their allies have traditionally called the shots.
 
Hazem Hosni, professor of political science at Cairo University, said he believed France's influence would remain limited to its former mandates and colonies in French-speaking Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and, to a lesser extent, Syria.
   
France's diplomacy is “in the historical context of France's presence in these areas,” he said.
 
By AFP's Daphné Benoit