Travellers in France were hit by more travel headaches on Wednesday as French rail chiefs SNCF were forced to cancel scores of services across the country due to a fresh two-day rail strike.
One TGV train out of three is expected to be operating on Wednesday, as well as two TER and two Transilien trains out of every five and one Intercite train out of four.
On international services, there will be four Eurostar trains out of five, one Lyria train out of three, while Thalys traffic will be “almost normal”, according to the SNCF.
In Paris anyone taking the RER B, which serves both Paris airports will have to change trains at Gare du Nord. Only half of the usual number of trains will run between Gare du Nord and Charles de Gaulle airport and around two thirds of trains between Gare du Nord and the southern end of the line at Robinson.
The other RER commuter lines around Paris will also be affected to differing degrees.
These disruptions are the latest of three months of rolling strikes planned by rail workers that began on April 3 over plans to overhaul the heavily indebted train operator SNCF, the biggest test yet to President Emmanuel Macron's wide-ranging drive to reform the country's economy.
The strikes have caused major travel headaches for the 4.5 million daily rail users in France although they are causing less disruption than when they first started on April 3rd when only one in eight TGV services was running.
Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament late Tuesday voted overwhelmingly in favour of a reform of the train network which will erode
railway workers' privileges and change the status of the SNCF.
After Tuesday's vote of 454 to 80 in the National Assembly, the legislation, which is backed by Macron's own party and the centre-right opposition, moves to the Senate.
Macron is hoping that the law will be passed quickly, undermining the rolling strikes which are scheduled until the end of June.
He is largely backed by public opinion, with 61 percent of respondents to a recent Ifop poll saying they wanted the government to push through the reforms.
But trade unions have vowed to continue their fight.
They have called for a day of nationwide work stoppages and demonstrations Thursday as part of their efforts to mobilise various groups opposed to
Civil servants, workers in state retirement homes and students have all been called to join protests that could bring hundreds of thousands of people
onto the street.
Around 300,000 civil servants, rail workers and students took part in the last day of anti-Macron demonstrations on March 22, according to police
Macron, who sees his own credibility as a reformer on the line as he prepares to mark the first anniversary of his presidency on May 14, has
insisted he will not back down.
Once passed by the lower house the rail reform law will proceed to the Senate where it will not be examined before May 29.
In a recent television interview, the French president who had hardly spoken about the conflict publicly, vowed to stand firm. “I will go to the end of these reforms,” he said. “It is essential we go ahead, not to do so would be a political hypocrisy”.
“I believe, as the unions do, that we need a strong rail service, a strong SNCF, and I respect their struggle,” Macron told TF1 television in his first comments on the rolling strikes launched last week.
“But I'm also asking them to fully consider the needs of our fellow citizens who have to put up with this, of the companies that could fail because of this strike,” Macron said.
“The right answer is not to abandon this reform, but to carry it out together,” he said.
“But I am going to see this through to the end.”
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.