French rail strike to hit RER B and local trains

Rail workers are set to begin a one-day strike at 7pm on Monday night but authorities say the walk-out won’t provoke the kind of travel chaos seen during last June's industrial action.

French rail strike to hit RER B and local trains

Commuters and rail passengers should be spared any serious travel chaos this week caused by a one-day rail strike set to begin on Monday evening, according to SNCF.

The strike is set to begin at 7pm on Monday and will continue until 8am on Wednesday morning.

But according to forecasts from SNCF, most services will run as normal including the TGV, and most of the commuter trains in and around Paris.

There will be “slight disruption” to the RER B service which links the city’s two main airports Charles de Gaulle and Orly.

There will also be some disruption in the regions where only eight out of ten TER trains are expected to run.

The strike, which has been called by the CGT union in protest against planned rail reforms, is not a rolling strike, which means it won't be extended beyond the set deadline.

The contentious reforms were put into place in January and are intended to tackle the rail sector's soaring debt, which stands at more than €40 billion and was feared to almost double by 2025 if nothing changed.

READ ALSO: So why are the French always on strike?

The reforms aim to cut costs by bringing together 149,000 employees at train operator SNCF and the 1,500 at RFF railway network to eventually open up parts of the service to competition.

The rolling strikes in June were the longest in years and crippled the transport system. They prompted clashes between riot police and protesters, and lost the state-run SNCF an estimated €80 million.

The CGT union has long argued that the reforms would lead to job losses without reducing debt. 

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French rail strikers resort to sabotage as movement grows militant

French rail chiefs reported 50 different acts of malicious sabotage on train lines on Monday with authorities fearing strikers will increasingly take matters into their own hands to keep up the pressure on the government.

French rail strikers resort to sabotage as movement grows militant
Photo: AFP

SNCF have lodged official complaints over some 50 acts of sabotage on train lines during Monday's day of strike action by rail workers.

Fewer and fewer rail staff have been taking part in the strikes as the weeks have gone on but Monday, the 18th day of the ongoing rolling strikes, was dubbed “the day without rail workers” and saw a jump in the number of rail workers downing tools compared to recent strike day.

The UNSA union had said it was “vital to deal a heavy blow” to pressure the government into making concessions.

But it appeared some strikers resorted to illegal action in order to create chaos on the trains.

Cables were also mysteriously cut in the southern port of Marseille that led to a power outage across the whole of the St Charles train station and overhead cables were also cut in the northwestern region of Normandy, in what the SNCF said appeared to be deliberate acts of sabotage aimed at further snarling traffic. 

“There were about fifty incidents of varying levels,” said a spokesperson for SNCF.

“They ranged from disturbances at level crossings to losing keys to offices, and of course the power cut in Marseille and the cutting of an overhead line in Normandy, ” said the spokesman.

SNCF described the cutting of the overhead cable in Normandy as a ” a highly technical deliberate act”.

“It was obvious it was an act of sabotage,” said the spokesperson before adding that French police will investigate the matter.

Even after power was restored in Marseille, rail workers and protesting students took to the tracks to block trains.

The SNCF believe these militant acts are a sign that the ongoing conflict over between unions and the government over plans to reform the heavily indebted SNCF is petering out.

“Generally these kind of acts happen at he end of a conflict,” said SNCF's deputy general director Mathias Vicherat. “We consider that these acts are a misapplication of the right to strike.”

While Monday saw a jump in participation, the percentage of rail workers taking part in the strike had fallen to 14.5 percent. Unions also know that public opinion and time appears to be against them. 

Opinion polls suggest a majority of French voters back the reforms. The lower house of parliament has already given them the green light, and the Senate is to vote on them this month.

But with the strikes to run until the end of June, rail passengers can expect more disruption caused by sabotage in the weeks to come.