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France suffers more travel chaos as rail workers strike

/ 05:40 AM June 14, 2013

A passenger walks in Saint-Charles railway station, in Marseille, southern France, Thursday June 13, 2013, as French rail workers strike to protest a reorganization of the national rail and train companies. Up to 70 percent of train journeys in France were to be canceled on Thursday. The action began Wednesday night, affecting overnight, international travel and ends Friday morning. AP PHOTO/CLAUDE PARIS

PARIS—France suffered another day of travel chaos on Thursday as striking workers shut down more than half the country’s rail lines after an air traffic controllers’ strike grounded thousands of flights this week.

Only about 40 percent of trains were running on the high-speed TGV and regional lines following the strike by workers opposed to a restructuring plan for the state-owned SNCF rail company.

The strike began at 1700 GMT on Wednesday and was to last until 0600 GMT on Friday.


The SNCF said about 33 percent of its 150,000 employees took part in the job action, while unions said more than 50 percent participated.

Only half of trains were running to Switzerland and one in three to Italy, but Eurostar services from Paris to London and high-speed links to Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany were not affected.

Rail workers’ unions called the strike over government plans to create a new state-owned company that will incorporate the SNCF, the company that operates rail services, and the RFF, the company that maintains the rail network, while still keeping the two branches separate.

Executives say the reform will make the railways run better at no additional cost to the taxpayer. Unions fear it will lead to the current system being dismantled.

The strike is also to protest recent job cuts, with unions saying 10,000 positions have been lost in the last five years, and to put pressure on management ahead of salary negotiations due to start on Friday.

Suburban trains in and out of Paris were also severely affected, with two-thirds of connections not operating on some lines.

Morgane Rodriguez, a 19-year-old who travels on two separate suburban lines every day, said her usual hour-and-fifteen-minute journey had been nearly doubled by the strike.

“I’ve been making this trip for a year, early in the morning and late at night, and I’m sick of it. Delays, breakdowns, strikes—there’s always something,” she told AFP at the Gare du Nord station.


The rail stoppage follows two days of disruption in the skies caused by air controllers protesting plans to create a single European airspace.

Up to three-quarters of flights from Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports, the two Paris hubs, were canceled on Wednesday and Nice, the main airport for the French Riviera, was also hit hard.

The cancellations affected mainly short-haul flights within France and to and from other European countries. Flights crossing French airspace, notably from Britain and Ireland to Spain and North Africa, were also hit by delays and cancellations.

The air traffic controllers’ strike was originally scheduled to continue Thursday but unions decided to cancel the third day of action.

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