Monday 21 May 2018

France crippled by mass rail strikes over reforms

Commuters on a crowded platform of the Gare de Lyon. Photo: Getty Images
Commuters on a crowded platform of the Gare de Lyon. Photo: Getty Images

Henry Samuel

France awoke yesterday to "Black Tuesday" as mass rail strikes brought much of the country's trains to a halt in the sternest test yet of Emmanuel Macron's reformist mettle.

With just one-in-eight fast TGV trains running nationally and one-in-five regional trains, commuters and tourists alike face an arduous task reaching their destinations as national operator SNCF warned of "severe disruption" ahead.

Platforms at Gare du Nord, Paris's busiest railway station, were so packed that some commuters fell onto the tracks and had to be helped back up.

The Eurostar service from London to Paris was also affected, with three-quarters of trains still running but 15 cancelled.

Passengers travelling to and from Disneyland Paris were warned that trains were arriving at and leaving from Paris Gare du Nord rather than the usual terminus at Marne-la-Vallée.

France's four main unions have promised a bitter battle ahead as they have called for three months of staggered industrial action, meaning trains will not run for two out of every five days, and that workers will strike for a total of 36 days.

Almost half of rail workers and 77pc of train drivers were on strike, according to SNCF.

The unions oppose the government's attempt to water down rail workers' impregnable status gifting them jobs for life and early retirement.

President Macron's camp insists the reforms are essential to stem rising debt, which currently stands at almost €47bn, and prepare the way for the arrival of European competitors starting next year.

Irish Independent

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