French rail strike disruption eases as more trains take to the tracks

The latest wave of France's rolling rail strikes got underway Friday, but with lighter disruption than last week as President Emmanuel Macron vowed to win his high-stakes battle with unions.

French rail strike disruption eases as more trains take to the tracks
Photo: AFP

Train drivers and other staff launched three months of strikes on April 3  in a bid to force Macron to back down on plans for an overhaul of the heavily indebted state rail operator SNCF.

They are set to continue two days out of every five until June 28, causing  havoc for France's 4.5 million daily train passengers.

But Macron insisted on Thursday that he would push on with reforms designed  to make the SNCF cheaper to operate as European passenger rail markets open to  competition from 2020.

“I am going to see this through to the end,” he told TF1 in his first  public remarks on a standoff that commentators have compared to late British  premier Margaret Thatcher's 1980s battle with coal unions.

A third of high-speed TGV and regional TER trains were running Friday, a marked increase on last week's strike when as few as one in eight TGVs ran as  normal. 

Eurostar services to London were operating normally and Thalys trains  towards Belgium and the Netherlands were suffering only light disruption.

Train traffic will also be disrupted on Saturday but will return to normal on Sunday until the next planned strike day on April 18.

In Paris, the Metro and buses will be working as normal, but the RER services linking the capital to its suburbs will be disrupted from Thursday evening:

  • On the RER A, 1 out of 2 trains will run on the Cergy-Poissy line on Friday.
  • On the RER B Nord, 3 out of 5 trains will run on Friday with no connection at the Gare du Nord.
  • On the RER C, 1 out of 4  trains will run on Thursday evening and 2 out of 3 on Friday.
  • On the RER D, 1 out of 3 trains will run on Thursday evening and 3 out of 5 on Friday with no connections at the Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon.
  • On the RER E, 1 out of 3 trains will run on Thursday evening and 2 out of 3 on Friday.

The ease in the strike action came as a relief to families as schools in  the Paris region as well as the southern cities of Toulouse and Montpellier  headed off on holiday.

The SNCF said 38 percent of the staff necessary for operating trains were  taking part in Friday's strike — a marked drop from 48 percent in the first 
strikes last week, though a slight three percent increase from the second wave  last Sunday.

Unions reacted angrily to Macron's speech, saying it made them even more  determined to push on with their strike action.

The CGT union blasted him as “a hesitant president who didn't say much, who  in all likelihood has not got a good understanding of the reform plans, and  who, far from reassuring us, has strengthened the determination of the rail  workers”. 

The unions object to plans to deny new SNCF recruits benefits such as jobs  for life and early retirement, and fear Macron's proposal to transform the 
operator into a state-owned joint stock company could eventually see it  privatised.

On Friday, however, CFDT union chief Laurent Berger said there had been  tentative steps forward in discussions between the two sides, notably in terms  of how to open the network to foreign competitors.

“There have been a few openings on certain subjects,” Berger told RTL  radio. “Now we need to move forward with the others.”

READ ALSO: The days to avoid plane and travel in France this spring


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French rail strikes: How Friday’s walkout is set to affect you

French rail workers are gearing up for another day of strikes on Friday July 6th. Here's what you need to know about how train services will be affected.

French rail strikes: How Friday's walkout is set to affect you
Photo: AFP
Travellers in France are set to be hit by more travel headaches on Friday as two rail unions, CGT and Sud-Rail, go on strike on one of the busiest days for people heading off on their summer holidays. 
Here's what we know about the disruption to services:
Four TGV and TER trains out of five will be operating on Friday while there will be two Intercités trains out of three and three Transilien trains out of four, on average, according to France's national rail company SNCF. 
International trains will run “as normal” on Eurostar, Thalys and the France-Spain link while services will be “almost normal” on the France-Germany route. 

French rail strikes latest: First weekend of holidays to be hitPhoto: AFP

For those travelling on the Lyria service there will be one train out of two, while two out of three trains are scheduled on the France-Italy service. 
More than 600 TGV trains will run on Friday and Saturday, with nearly 100 percent of trains guaranteed for tourists travelling from the French capital to popular tourist destinations such as Marseille, Nice, Montpellier, Perpignan, Bordeaux and Rennes, said SNCF.
All passengers who had made a reservation were contacted in recent days “by SMS or email”, according to the rail company, which added that “tickets remain refundable and exchangeable without additional cost”.
Sud-Rail union announced last week, after a national council meeting, that it was calling on its members to walk off the job on July 6 and 7, the first weekend of the school summer holidays.
President Emmanuel Macron has pushed through the emblematic shake-up of train services despite stiff resistance from rail workers and their unions, who have carried out their longest strike in three decades in an attempt to derail the plan.
The rail reform was a key victory in the centrist president's push to reform wide swathes of France's economy.
Unions have been resisting plans to end life-long job security to new recruits, as well as plans to turn the SNCF into a joint-stock company, which hey saw as a first step toward privatisation despite government denials.
Macron argued that the SNCF, saddled by debts of some 47 billion euros, needs to cut costs and improve flexibility before the EU passenger rail market is opened up to competition.