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French rail network disrupted until ‘Tuesday at earliest’ after power outage strands thousands

French rail operator SNCF says that trains will not be back to normal until Tuesday morning at the earliest after a power failure saw thousands of passengers having to spend the night on stranded trains.

French rail network disrupted until 'Tuesday at earliest' after power outage strands thousands
Photo: AFP

The power failure in south west France affected thousands of passengers who were travelling back to Paris and the north of the country ready to go back to work on Monday.

The power failure happened between Dax and Bordeaux on Sunday afternoon, leaving several trains from Dax, Biarritz and Hendaye stuck on the lines unable to move. Many passengers were stranded for up to 20 hours and some were forced to sleep on trains after local hotels ran out of space.

In all around 2,500 passengers were affected, said SNCF.

The company added that the problem is not yet resolved and has also had major knock-on effects on the rail network, saying that they do not expect a return to normal until Tuesday morning at the earliest.

Passengers who were booked to travel through the affected areas on Monday are advised to postpone their trip.

SNCF told Le Parsien: “Our teams are still working on the breakdown of the power supply in the Dax area. We have to do major work on the track installations, we had to wait until daybreak to do them.”

Transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebarri said that anyone stuck in one of the affected trains will have their tickets refunded up to 300 percent.

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TRAINS

SNCF set to lose bid for regional French railway line for first time ever

The French state-funded rail operator SNCF is set to lose a regional rail service for the first time as officials in southeast France vote to award a 10-year contract to a rival operator.

SNCF set to lose bid for regional French railway line for first time ever
Photo by Bertrand Langlois / AFP

Officials in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur appear set to award the regional rail service between Marseille and Nice to the Transdev transport group for 10 years when the tender goes to its final vote on October 29th.

If the vote goes as planned, it will be the first internal regional rail service in France that will not be operated by SNCF. 

“SNCF Voyageurs [which includes TGV, TER, Intercités and Transilien] wishes Transdev every success, in the interest of passengers and the development of rail transport in the region,” SNCF said in a press release, acknowledging the impending loss of the contract.

“This choice marks (…) the concretisation of the opening to competition for which we have been preparing for a long time, where our organising authorities have the freedom to choose other operators than us,” Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs, said in the statement.

Three companies were in the running for the €870 million 10-year deal: SNCF, private French transport group Transdev, and Thello, a subsidiary of the Italian public railway company Trenitalia.

Transdev – which already operates successful bus, coach and rail operations – has promised that regional rail traffic on the Marseille-Nice line will double from seven daily services to 14 by 2025.

While the symbolic loss of its first regional rail service will hurt SNCF, it can console itself with reports that it looks set to retain other lines in the region, including links between Les Arcs-Draguignan and Ventimiglia (Italy), as well as Nice-Tende and Cannes-Grasse. The 10-year deal for those services – for which it was the only bidder – is worth €1.5 billion.

Elected officials in the Grand-Est, Hauts-de-France, Ile-de-France and Pays de la Loire are taking a keen interest in the tender process in PACA, having already announced that they would consider opening up bids for TER services to rival operators.

TER routes are France’s local trains, running slower services to small towns, in contrast to the high-speed TGV network which links up the cities.

READ ALSO Everything you need to know about taking the train in France

“It’s historic in the railway world, it’s the first time that a line of this importance will be granted to another operator than the SNCF,” Alpes-Maritimes senator Philippe Tabarot, and former vice-president in charge of transport in the PACA region, told AFP.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone is as excited at the prospect. “We are not surprised, because it shows the willingness of the region to create competition in the most profitable markets,” said Jean-Marie Valencia, head of communications for rail union CGT-Cheminots PACA. “We are concerned, because it will not be without cost to the railway workers.”

Didier Mathis, secretary general of union UNSA-Ferroviaire, added: “We are saddened by this decision, because it will lead to the transfer of 166 agents [from SNCF to Transdev]. 

“This decision is not at all a surprise, because the Southern Region would have been embarrassed if it had chosen SNCF twice in the two tenders, even though it said it was dissatisfied with SNCF. The region would have lost all credibility.” 

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