South of France rail line reopens after 50 years

After one of the busiest summers ever recorded on French railways, a regional line in southern France has reopened, with local authorities saying they hope to cut car-use in the area.

South of France rail line reopens after 50 years
A local Mayor Jean-Yves Chapelet applauds the reopening of the line between Pont-Saint-Esprit and Nimes on the right bank of the Rhone River on August 28, 2022. (Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP)

The south-east French cities of Pont-Saint-Esprit, Avignon and Nîmes are once again connected by a direct train after the first reopening of a regional (TER) line since 2016 in France. 

Having been exclusively used for freight trains since 1973, the line was closed due to competition with vehicles during the ‘all-car’ era. It used to serve passengers along the right bank of the Rhone river, linking Givors, in the Rhone, to Nîmes in the Gard.

France once enjoyed one of the richest rail networks in Europe, but in the last century it has seen some 20,000 kilometers of lines closed to passenger service, explained geographer Etienne Auphan to regional newspaper Nice Matin.

France’s transport minister, Clément Beaune congratulated the region for the reopening of the line.

The reopening of the line will allow the 75,000 inhabitants of the greater Nîmes area to save up to 40 percent of their travel time to Avignon, when compared to the time spent driving during rush hour. Regional daily La Provence estimates that at least 70,000 cars cross the bridges over the Rhone between the Gard and Avignon every day.

Regional authorities in Occitanie have been pushing for the reopening of the line as both a tool for regional development and a way to decrease carbon emissions. The project cost about €100 million, with the objective of opening five other stations along the line and encouraging at least 200,000 passengers per year to take the line.

The other stations are expected to reopen by 2026.

Laurette Bastaroli, a retired quality technician who has campaigned for the return of the train, sees the project as a way of combating the climate crisis in response to IPCC reports.

She told Nice Matin that the reopening of this 82-kilometre line “is a bit like winning the battle of the railroad.”

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Eurostar faces severe disruption at Christmas as staff vote to strike

High-speed train operator Eurostar will face security staff walkouts that will "severely" disrupt busy Christmas services, their trade union said on Wednesday.

Eurostar faces severe disruption at Christmas as staff vote to strike

Eurostar, which links London with Paris and Brussels, is the latest firm hit by strikes as salaries fail to keep pace with rocketing inflation in a cost-of-living crisis.

The RMT rail union said in a statement that members working as Eurostar security voted overwhelmingly to strike on December 16th, 18th, 22nd and 23rd.

“The strike action will severely affect Eurostar services and travel plans for people over the December period,” it added.

More than 100 staff had voted “emphatically” to reject a pay offer that was below inflation.

The RMT added that the security workers are employed by facilities contractor Mitie.

“Security staff are essential to the running of Eurostar and it is disgraceful they are not being paid a decent wage,” said RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.

“I urge Mitie and Eurostar to come to a negotiated settlement with RMT as soon as possible.”

Britain faces a grim winter of discontent this year as strikes multiply across public and private sectors as pay is eroded by surging consumer prices.

Ambulance workers on Wednesday joined nurses in voting to go on strike ahead of Christmas.

Numerous other staff, from lawyers to airport ground personnel, have also held strikes this year as Britain contends with its worst cost-of-living crisis in generations.

UK inflation accelerated in October to a 41-year peak at 11.1 percent on runaway energy and food bills.